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N81659 accident description

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Crash location 37.861111°N, 108.036389°W
Reported location is a long distance from the NTSB's reported nearest city. This often means that the location has a typo, or is incorrect.
Nearest city Telluride, CO
37.937494°N, 107.812285°W
13.3 miles away

Tail number N81659
Accident date 09 Jun 2005
Aircraft type Piper PA-34-200T
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On June 9, 2005, approximately 0930 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-34-200T, N81659, operated by American Aviation Inc., was destroyed when it impacted mountainous terrain 11 nautical miles southwest of Telluride, Colorado. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The non-scheduled domestic cargo flight was being operated under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 135 without a flight plan. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. The cross-country flight departed Grand Junction (GJT), Colorado, approximately 0855 and was en route to Animas Airpark (00C), Durango, Colorado.

According to radar data, the airplane was climbing at an approximate rate of 500 feet per minute (fpm). This rate decreased to 350 fpm, 240 fpm, and approximately 140 fpm over a 24-minute period, prior to impact.

Several witnesses fishing at Wood Lake heard an airplane fly over the area. Shortly thereafter, they heard a loud explosion near Mount Wilson and observed a rockslide, dust, and plume of smoke. The San Miguel County Sheriff's Office was notified and further investigation revealed the wreckage of a light twin-engine airplane.


The pilot, age 27, held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. He also held a certified flight instructor certificate with airplane single engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings.

The pilot was issued a first class medical certificate on September 29, 2004. The certificate contained no limitations. At the time of application for the medical certificate, the pilot reported 2,100 hours total time, 400 hours of which had been flown in the previous 6 months.

The pilot was employed in July 2004 by American Aviation. The American Aviation, Inc., Pilot Annual Resume, dated June 21, 2004, indicated the pilot had logged 1,477 hours total time; 470 hours of which were in multi-engine airplanes. Company records indicate the pilot had flown this route 22 times since November of 2004, and 4 times within 30 days of the accident. The company Pilot Flight and Duty Logs indicated the following flight hours for the pilot:

30 days - 47.2 hours 90 days - 181.5 hours Since employment in July - 626.5 hours


The accident airplane, a Piper PA-34-200T (serial number 34-8070143), was manufactured in 1980. It was equipped with two Teledyne Continental Motors engines (TSIO-360KB and LTSIO-360KB) each rated for 220 horsepower. Each engine was equipped with a three blade constant speed, hydraulically actuated, full feathering, counter-rotating propeller.

The airplane was registered to and operated by American Aviation Incorporated, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. The airplane was maintained under a 100-hour inspection program. The maintenance records indicated that the airplane underwent a 100-hour inspection on June 6, 2005, at a tachometer time of 6109.5.


At 0928, the Telluride METAR (aviation routine weather report) recorded the weather as, wind, 270 degrees at 9 knots; visibility, 10 statute miles; sky condition, clear (below 12,000 feet mean sea level); temperature, 11 degrees Celsius (C); dew point, minus 3 degrees C; altimeter, 30.08.

The witness in the area of Mount Wilson at the time of the accident reported the weather as calm winds, warm temperatures and a high, thin cloud layer.


According to the radio transcripts with the control tower operator at GJT, the pilot departed GJT at 0855:35. The controller advised the pilot that the transponder was intermittent. The pilot stated that he would recycle his transponder. Approximately 5 minutes later, the controller asked for a position report. The controller was not able to understand the pilot's response. A Cessna in the area relayed that the airplane was 8,200 feet and climbing.


The wreckage was located approximately 12,500 feet msl, on the western slope of Mount Wilson. The Global Positioning System coordinates were 37 degrees 51 minutes 40 seconds north latitude and 108 degrees 2 minutes 11 seconds west longitude, approximately 1.7 nautical miles southwest of Woods Lake.

According to the San Miguel County Search and Rescue Team, the initial impact point was located approximately 12,800 feet. Within the impact crater were pieces of Plexiglas, torn metal and fiberglass. The initial impact crater was followed by a ground scar, and a debris path extending down hill, approximately 300 feet. The right engine assembly separated from the wing and was located to the left of the debris path. The left wing, including the nacelle, was located uphill from the main wreckage. The main wreckage consisted of the fuselage, empennage, and a portion of the right wing.

Due to rugged, unstable terrain, and hazardous weather, recovery operations were suspended until August 2005. The wreckage was recovered and transported to a hangar in Greeley, Colorado, for further examination. No on-scene examination of the wreckage was conducted by NTSB or FAA.


The autopsy was performed by the Montrose Memorial Hospital on June 10, 2005, as authorized by the San Miguel County coroner. No preexisting conditions were noted that would have been causal or contributory to this accident.

Toxicology was performed by the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (CAMI Reference # 200500131001). Tests for carbon monoxide, and cyanide were not performed. No evidence of ethanol or drugs were detected.


The wreckage was examined by the NTSB IIC and representatives from Teledyne Continental Motors, The New Piper Aircraft Company, and the Federal Aviation Administration, on August 24, 2005. An examination of the airframe revealed no preimpact anomalies that would have been causal or contributory to the accident. An examination of both engines revealed no preimpact anomalies that would have precluded either engine from producing power prior to the accident.

The left wing, including the flap, nacelle, engine, and landing gear assembly, separated from the fuselage. Approximately 70 inches of the outboard portion of the wing, including the aileron, separated from the wing assembly. The engine was crushed to the left and aft, into the nacelle, but remained attached to the wing assembly. Both portions of the wing assembly exhibited torn and bent metal and extensive impact damage. Control continuity to the left aileron was established.

The right wing, including the aileron, nacelle, and landing gear assembly, remained partially attached to the fuselage. The right engine and wing flap separated from the wing assembly. The wing exhibited torn and bent metal, aft longitudinal crushing along the leading edge, and extensive impact damage. The inboard portion of the wing and landing gear exhibited thermal damage. Control continuity to the right aileron was established.

The fuselage was crushed, torn, and fragmented. The metal exhibited evidence of fire damage in the form of soot. The instrument and switch panels were broken and destroyed. One airspeed indicator was recovered, with a needle indication of 130 knots.

The empennage, including the left side of the stabilator, vertical stabilizer, and rudder remained attached to the fuselage. The right side of the stabilator separated and exhibited extensive torn metal and leading edge damage. The right stabilator and vertical stabilizer exhibited crushed metal and torn fiberglass. Control continuity for the stabilator and rudder were established.

The right propeller assembly separated from the engine at the propeller flange. The blades were labeled A, B, and C, for identification purposes only. All three blades exhibited leading edge nicks, gouges, 90-degree chordwise scratches, and s-shape bending. The left propeller assembly separated from the engine at the propeller flange. The blades were labeled A, B, and C, for identification purposes only. Blade C separated from the propeller assembly. Approximately 4 inches of the outboard tip of blade A separated from the propeller assembly. All three blades exhibited leading edge nicks, gouges, 90-degree chordwise scratches, and s-shape bending.


According to American Aviation, Inc., a direct flight from GJT to 00C is preferred if weather allows. The two instrument flight rules routes proposed in the American Aviation manual have minimum en route altitudes (MEA) of 13,000 feet and 15,000 feet. A direct route to Animas Airpark from GJT travels over mountainous terrain with mountain peaks as high as 14,100 feet msl. Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center reported the MEA for such a direct flight as 15,300 msl.

According to family members, friends, and colleagues, the pilot was "tired" and displayed symptoms of burnout. One colleague reported that during an extended flight, the pilot had fallen asleep while acting as pilot in command. Several other passengers, whom had flown with the pilot, reported that he had fallen asleep during their flights. Friends and family members reported that the pilot was "sick of flying" and they were concerned about his "lack of time to sleep." They reported that the pilot had been awakened "in the middle of the night to come back to work" on several occasions. On the morning of the accident, the pilot made several requests for someone to accompany him during his flight because he was tired.

Parties to the investigation include Teledyne Continental Motors, The New Piper Aircraft Company, and the Federal Aviation Administration represented through an inspector with the Salt Lake City, Flight Standards District Office.

The wreckage was released to a representative of the insurance company on September 28, 2005.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.