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N86708 accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Telluride, CO
37.937494°N, 107.812285°W

Tail number N86708
Accident date 14 Sep 1997
Aircraft type Bellanca 7GCBC
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On September 14, 1997, approximately 1615 mountain daylight time, a Bellanca 7GCBC, N86708, was destroyed when it collided with terrain shortly after takeoff at Telluride, Colorado. The commercial-rated flight instructor and student pilot were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the personal flight being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.

Jim Prendergast, the airport's line service technician, said the pilot, Ernest Thompson, had asked him to service N86708 with 12 gallons of fuel. This filled both tanks to capacity. Shelby Evans, one of Mr. Thompson's flight students, watched the two pilots prepare for departure. She said the battery in the airplane was so weak that Ernest Thompson had to turn the propeller by hand in order to start the engine. Ernest Thompson told his son, Jason, a student pilot, that he could fly the airplane. Ms. Evans observed Jason Thompson get in the front seat and Ernest Thompson get in the rear seat. Both Mr. Prendergast and Ms. Evans watched the airplane taxi out to runway 27. It was followed by a Mesa Airlines Beech 1900.

John Christensen, the captain of Mesa Airlines Flight 5012, said that as he taxied to the end of runway 27, he noticed N86708 in the run-up area. When its pilot announced he was ready for takeoff, he called him on the radio and asked him for his direction of flight. The pilot replied he was going to depart straight ahead, but would remain north of the runway. Mr. Prendergast also heard this conversation over the radio. Captain Christensen watched N86708 begin its takeoff roll, then turned his attention to making preparations for his own departure. His first officer, Curtis Hawley, watched the takeoff and remarked that the departing airplane had made what appeared to him to be "a very unusual maneuver."

Ms. Evans, who watched the takeoff, said the airplane lifted off where taxiway A2 intersects the runway (see airport layout, attached). When the airplane was near the end of the runway and had climbed to an altitude between 300 and 400 feet, it "veered" and "banked steeply" to the right and disappeared behind a hill. Mr. Prendergast also observed the airplane take off, and confirmed the pilot made an immediate right turn. He said the airplane appeared to be in a nose high attitude before disappearing behind a hill. Shortly thereafter, he heard the pilot of the departing commuter airplane report that an airplane had crashed. Mr. Prendergast went into the fixed base operator (FBO) office and called 9-1-1 to report the accident.

Witness Walter Durauer told investigators he observed N86708 take off. He said when the airplane got to the departure end of the runway, it made a right bank and a heading change of about 90 degrees. About one second after the pilot rolled out of the turn, "the airplane stalled," the right wing dropped, and the airplane descended at a steep angle. The airplane entered what appeared to be a right spin and had not completed a complete right turn before disappearing from view. Mr. Durauer holds an airline transport pilot certificate with type ratings in the Boeing 737 and Cessna 500, and has logged 3,500 flight hours.

Another witness said he saw the airplane in a nose high attitude and flying at a slow airspeed. He then saw the wings "wobble" and the right wing drop. The airplane descended and disappeared behind a hill.


The pilot in command, Ernest Howard Thompson, was found seated in the rear seat of the airplane. He held Commercial Pilot Certificate No. 32325039, dated June 2, 1989, with airplane single/multiengine land and instrument ratings. He also held a flight instructor certificate, dated September 28, 1995, with airplane single/multiengine and instrument ratings. He possessed a second class airman medical certificate, dated July 1, 1997, with a vision restriction.

Two logbooks and six daily planner books (containing flight times) belonging to Ernest Thompson were located and made available for examination. The first daily planner book contained flight times recorded between April and December 1993, and totaled 261.4 hours. The second daily planner book contained flight times recorded between January and July 1994, and totaled 203.9. The flight times recorded in these two books were made exclusively in a Piper PA-23, N6537A. The third daily planner book contained flight times recorded between July and December 1994, and totaled 172.3 hours. The fourth daily planner book contained flight times recorded between January and December 1995, and totaled 384.6 hours. The fifth daily planner book contained flight times recorded between January and December 1996, and totaled 343.0 hours. The sixth daily planner book contained flight times recorded between February and April 1997, and totaled 78.2 hours. The flight times recorded in these last four books were made exclusively in a Mitsubishi MU-2, N2GT.

The first of the two pilot logbooks contained entries from April 15, 1978, to November 1, 1989, and totaled 2,941.5 hours. The second logbook contained entries from March 12, 1993, to July 26, 1997, an totaled 667.6 hours. From the data contained in the logbooks and daily planners, it was determined the pilot had accrued 12,033 total flight hours, of which no less than 150.0 hours were in the Bellanca 7GCBC, and 442.5 hours were in other similar Bellanca models. The pilot had logged a total of 2,965.5 hours in tailwheel equipped airplanes.

Mr. Thompson's last biennial flight review was accomplished on October 8, 1996, in a Mitsubishi MU-2. He flew this airplane as the personal pilot of a Telluride businessman. On April 25, 1997, he made an inadvertent wheels-up landing in the MU-2 at Punta Chivato, Mexico.

The student pilot, Ernest Jason Thompson, the pilot's son, was found seated in the front seat of the airplane. He held Student Pilot Certificate No. EE-1978978. He held a third class airman medical certificate, dated September 8, 1997, with no restrictions or limitations.

His logbook was found in the wreckage and examined. It contained entries from August 1, 1987, to August 24, 1997. He had logged a total of 36.6 hours, all in single engine airplanes. Of this time, 7.5 hours were in the Bellanca 7GCBC. Another 4.0 hours were logged in similar Bellanca models. He had also logged 2.6 hours in solo flight, all of which were in a Cessna 150.


The airplane maintenance records were made available by the owner and examined. The airplane received an annual inspection on July 31, 1997, at a tachometer reading of 2420:80. The tachometer reading at the accident site was 2442:92, a difference of 22.12 hours. The engine received a major overhaul on March 14, 1986, at a tachometer reading of 1987:00. It had had accrued 455:92 hours since overhaul.


Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at Telluride Regional Airport at the time of the accident (see weather documents, attached). Winds were from the west at 7 to 8 knots. Density altitude was computed to be 10,920 feet msl.


Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) is located 5 miles west of the town and is situated atop a 1,000-foot mesa at an elevation of 9,078 feet msl. It has one asphalt runway, 09-27, that is 6,870 feet x 100 feet.


The wreckage was located in a gully abeam the midpoint of runway 27 and approximately 1/2-mile to the north. There were ground scars on the bank of a hill and slide marks down the side of the hill, terminating at the inverted airplane in the bottom of the gully. All major airplane components were located either on the airplane or in the ravine.

The nose and tail of the airplane were aligned on a magnetic heading of 285 and 305 degrees, respectively. The right wing spar was fractured at the root. The right main landing gear was separated from the fuselage and driven aft, jamming the wheel into the side of the fuselage. Although the rudder cables were severed, continuity of all flight controls was established. The ends of the rudder cables had "broom" signatures. There was crush damage on the leading edge and top of the vertical stabilizer. The bottom of the tail cone and horizontal stabilizers were relatively undamaged. The flaps were up.

Both propeller blades bore chordwise scratches on the cambered surfaces. One blade was bent aft; the other blade was curled in an "S" fashion.

Both pilot seat belts and shoulder harnesses were buckled together and attached to the airframe. Rescuers cut both seatbelts in order to remove the victims.


Autopsies on both pilots were performed by Dr. Thomas M. Canfield, forensic pathologist, at the Montrose, Colorado, Memorial Hospital. Toxicological protocols were performed by both Montrose Memorial Hospital and FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Montrose Memorial Hospital filed negative toxicology reports on both pilots. Similarly, CAMI's reports said no carboxyhemoglobin, cyanide, or ethanol was detected in either pilot.


A weight and balance study was performed. The fixed base operator at Telluride said the airplane was serviced with 12 gallons of fuel prior to takeoff, and this filled both tanks to capacity. Using the most recent licensed empty weight for the airplane, dated January 15, 1997; occupant weights based upon their most recent FAA medical certificates, July 1, 1997, and September 8, 1997; and an estimated weight of two small backpacks found in the wreckage, it was computed that the airplane was approximately 219 pounds overweight at the time of the accident.

The engine was disassembled and examined at Montrose, Colorado, on November 6, 1997. No discrepancies were noted.


Mr. Lynn French, an FAA designated pilot examiner at Crawford, Colorado, Airport (99V) telephoned this investigator shortly after the accident. He said Ernest Thompson was one of his glider tow pilots. In the past, he had observed Mr. Thompson to regularly make soft field takeoffs when flying tailwheel airplanes; that is, holding full aft control stick during the takeoff roll. This would caused the airplane to lift off in a nose high attitude and climb at a steep angle of attack. He had also seen Mr. Thompson make a low pass and an aileron roll over the airport. Mr. French said he admonished Mr. Thompson for doing this. Ernest Thompson's son, Jason, had confided to both Mr. French and Shelby Evans that he was apprehensive about using the soft field takeoff technique that his father had taught, especially in high density altitude conditions. Mr. French recalled that as recently as May 1997, Ernest Thompson had told him he was upset about the inadvertent wheels up landing he had made in the MU-2. Mr. French said he was also having trouble remembering things.

Other than the Federal Aviation Administration, there were no parties to the investigation.

The wreckage was released to the insurance adjuster, representing the airplane owner's insurance company, on September 15, 1997.

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