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N231JF accident description

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Crash location 35.109444°N, 105.720834°W
Nearest city Clines Corners, NM
35.009498°N, 105.669180°W
7.5 miles away
Tail number N231JF
Accident date 12 Nov 2014
Aircraft type Mooney Aircraft CORP. M20K
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

History of Flight

On November 12, 2014, at 1735 (all times are mountain standard time), a Mooney M20K airplane, N231JF, collided with the terrain in Clines Corners, New Mexico. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and a post impact fire. The airplane was registered to KI Aircraft LLC and was being operated by a private individual as a 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. Localized instrument meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which was not operated on a flight plan. The flight originated from the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (AMA), Amarillo, Texas, at 1616. The intended destination for the flight was the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona.

According to personnel at the fixed base operator (FBO) in AMA, the pilot landed the airplane and taxied to the FBO about 1525. The pilot instructed the line personnel to "top off" the airplane with fuel. FBO personnel reported there was a "light blowing sleet" at the time, but that the airplane was free of any ice. The pilot left the FBO to eat and when he returned, he asked the customer service representative (CSR) if she knew of any airplanes at their facility that had just arrived from or were departing for Phoenix. The CSR replied that there were none. The pilot then struck up a conversation with two business jet pilots who were in the lobby. The FBO manager stated he spoke with the pilot and because the weather was deteriorating, he offered to put the pilot's airplane in a heated hangar for the night. The pilot stated he was not staying the night and that he would be departing shortly. FBO personnel stated that after departing the FBO, the pilot performed an engine run-up and contacted air traffic control for his taxi clearance.

One of the corporate jet pilots recalled the accident pilot asking if anyone was going to Phoenix. The accident pilot then asked him if he knew the altitudes of the cloud ceiling and cloud tops. The accident pilot explained that he was trying to get to Phoenix and he was wondering if the cloud layer was thin enough for him to get through it. The business pilot stated that he flew in from the east and that when they were on top of the clouds, the cloud layer below them extended as far as they could see. He also informed the pilot that they encountered rime and clear ice during their descent into AMA. The accident pilot then questioned himself out loud as to whether or not he would be able to stay below the weather. They discussed the mountains located east of Albuquerque. The accident pilot opened his "tablet" and looked at a satellite image pointing out where he thought the cloud layer ended east of Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The business pilot told the accident pilot that a weather briefer would be able to give him information regarding the ceilings heights along his planned route. The accident pilot thanked him and departed the FBO.

The pilot received visual flight rules (VFR) flight following from air traffic control during the flight. While in contact with the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZAB), the pilot reported that the airplane was "starting to collect some ice" and requested information regarding the tops of the cloud layer. The pilot stated that he was going to have to turn around to return to AMA. The controller offered the pilot several other airports in the area, but the accident flight continued westbound. The controller questioned the pilot regarding the weather conditions and asked if he was aware of the terrain along the route. The pilot reported that he was familiar with the terrain and that he was below the clouds. The pilot then stated that he was going to fly to the Moriarty Airport (OEO), which was about 28 miles west of his current position.

Radar contact and communication with the airplane were lost about 1735. The wreckage was located in a field just west of Route 285, 7 ½ miles north of I-40 in Clines Corners, New Mexico.

Personnel Information

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a single-engine land rating issued on March 21, 2004. He was issued a third class airman medical certificate with no restrictions on March 20, 2014. The pilot was not instrument rated.

Two of the pilot's logbooks were made available for review during the investigation. One logbook contained entries from January 5, 2004 through February 17, 2005. The second logbook contained entries from March 19, 2014 through June 5, 2014. There were 28 additional undated entries, most of which did not have any flight time associated with them. A total of the recorded flight times indicate the pilot had a total flight time of 285.4 hours. Of this time, 27.6 hours were flown in the accident airplane.

FAA records show that on August 17, 2014, they conducted an investigation of a Pilot Deviation involving the accident pilot. According to the deviation report, the pilot unintentionally entered Class A airspace without a clearance or an instrument rating while attempting to climb out of weather.

Aircraft Information

The accident airplane was a Mooney M20K, serial number 25-0075. The Mooney M20K is a single-engine, four-place design, with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was powered by a 210-horsepower, Continental Motors TSIO-360-C six-cylinder, reciprocating engine, serial number 309079. The airplane was equipped with a two-blade McCauley model 2A34C316-B propeller assembly.

Records show the pilot purchased the airplane on May 10, 2014. The last aircraft logbook contained entries from July 30, 2009, through May 14, 2014. The last airframe annual inspection was completed on May 9, 2014, at a Hobbs time of 390.7 hours and a tachometer time of 8.2 hours. The last entry in the aircraft logbooks was dated May 14, 2014, which was for the transponder, encoding altimeter, and static system check. The last aircraft total time that was listed in the logbook was 3,445.5 hours on December 17, 2012, at a Hobbs time of 380.9 hours.

The last engine logbook contained entries from July 30, 2009, through May 14, 2014. The last engine annual inspection was competed on May 9, 2014, at an engine total time of 3,455.3 hours and a time since major overhaul of 1,727.3 hours.

The total time on the aircraft and engine at the time of the accident could not be determined from the logbook information collected during the investigation.

The pilot requested the airplane be filled with fuel with fuel before his last departure. Fueling records indicate the airplane was fueled with 20.9 gallons of 100LL.

Meteorological Information

The Clines Corners, New Mexico (CQC), Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), is located about 7 miles south-southeast of the accident site. At 1732, the CQC ASOS recorded weather conditions as: wind from 120 degrees at 15 knots; visibility 4 miles with light snow and mist; broken clouds at 800 feet above ground level (agl); temperature minus 12 degrees Celsius (C); dew point minus 14 degrees C; altimeter 30.13 inches of mercury.

The Moriarty Airport (0E0) in Moriarty, New Mexico, is located 16 miles west-southwest of the accident site. At 1735, the 0E0 ASOS recorded weather conditions as: wind 130 at 8 knots; visibility 10 miles or greater; overcast clouds at 2,000 ft agl; temperature minus 8 degrees C; dew point minus 13 degrees C; altimeter 30.22 inches of mercury.

The Santa Fe Municipal Airport (SAF) ASOS was located about 41 miles northwest of the accident site. At 1733, the SAF ASOS recorded weather conditions as: wind from 140 degrees at 23 knots gusting to 30 knots; visibility 10 miles or greater; broken clouds at 1,500 ft agl; temperature minus 7 degrees Celsius; dew point minus 14 degrees Celsius; altimeter 30.12 inches of mercury.

The Albuquerque International Sunport Airport (ABQ) ASOS was located about 51 miles west of the accident site. At 1752, the ABQ ASOS recorded weather conditions as: wind from 080 degrees at 25 knots; visibility 10 miles or greater; few clouds at 4,000 ft agl, few clouds at 8,000 ft agl; temperature 0 degrees Celsius; dew point minus 11 degrees Celsius; altimeter 30.07 inches of mercury.

Atmospheric data was retrieved from 1700 Rawinsonde launches from ABQ and AMA, where each launch likely retrieved low-level meteorological data beginning between 1600 and 1630. The ABQ sounding showed two temperature inversions with one located just above the surface and the other surrounding an altitude of 9,000 ft above mean sea level (msl). The freezing level was about 8,400 ft msl. Above the freezing level, the temperature increased to 3 degrees C at about 9,500 ft msl and remained above freezing up to 11,000 ft msl. Wind near the surface was from the east at 20 knots. The wind then changed to the south at 10 knots at about 7,000 ft msl, and to a westerly wind of 25 knots at about 10,000 ft msl. Assessments of icing made by the Universal Rawinsonde Observation program (RAOB) for this sounding did not identify any icing potential.

The AMA sounding showed multiple temperature inversions, with several in the layer between 6,000 and 8,000 ft msl. Another inversion was located between 12,200 and 13,700 ft msl. The entire atmosphere was below freezing. Wind near the surface was from the northeast at 10 knots. The wind changed above the surface, becoming a west wind at 45 knots at an altitude of 9,000 msl. Assessments of icing made by the RAOB for this sounding identified the potential for moderate rime and clear icing along with the potential for significant turbulence between 7,000 and 9,000 ft msl.

The 1528 area forecast issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Albuquerque, called for instrument flight rule (IFR) and marginal visual flight rule (MVFR) conditions at the central and eastern terminal sites. The 1652 area forecast called for areas of MVFR to IFR ceilings and visibility in light snow, mist, and freezing fog near the northeast New Mexico border as well as between the central mountain chain and the Pecos Valley. After 1900, the wind was forecast to gust between 30 and 35 knots at Santa Fe and ABQ.

Airmen Meteorological Information (AIRMET) advisories for altitudes below FL 180 were issued for New Mexico and active at the time of the accident. AIRMET SIERRAs which called for IFR conditions and mountain obscuration due to clouds, precipitation and mist encompassed the area along the route of flight and the accident site. AIRMET ZULU which encompassed an area just north of the route of flight and the accident site called for moderate ice below 16,000 ft msl.

A witness who heard the impact stated the weather conditions at the time were blowing snow flurries, windy, and very cold temperatures. A captain from the Santa Fe County Fire Department stated that it began to snow heavily, the wind was gusting, and the visibility decreased as he was responding to the accident scene.


The pilot established contact with the ZAB sector 87 radar controller at 1637 stating he was at 6,400 ft. The controller asked the pilot if he was aware of the high terrain along his route of flight. The pilot responded that he was looking for a "…spot to us go up uh do you know what the tops are at here." The controller informed the pilot that he did not have any top reports and he cleared the pilot to contact ZAB on another frequency.

The pilot checked in with the sector 16 (R16) controller at 1703 stating he was at 7,200 ft. At 1716, the pilot asked the controller if he knew where the cloud tops were as he was starting to pick up some ice. The controller responded that he did not know where the cloud top reports. The pilot then informed the controller that he needed to turn around and descend. The controller reiterated that the pilot was going to descend and return to Amarillo. The pilot responded that was correct. The controller stated to the pilot that he wasn't picking up any precipitation on his radar so he didn't know where the cloud layers were, but he offered several nearby airports at which the pilot could land.

At 1720, the controller asked the pilot if he was going to continue on course and if he was aware of the terrain along the course. The pilot replied that he was going to continue and that he was aware of the terrain.

At 1722, the pilot stated "… it's getting worse up higher I'm gonna have to turn around and reroute." The pilot then asked where the closest airport was located. The pilot did not declare an emergency. The controller provided the pilot with the distances and directions to several airports. The pilot replied that he was going to reverse course to Santa Rosa (SXU) and he asked the controller what the weather was like there. The controller replied, "….unfortunately Santa Rosa's not an adapted weather station." At 1725, the controller informed the pilot that 0E0 was 28 miles away if he didn't want to continue toward Albuquerque. The pilot responded that he was going to Moriarty. The controller then stated to the pilot "…unfortunately Moriarty is not an adapted weather station either so I don't have a weather report there." The controller asked the pilot if he was below the clouds. The pilot replied he was and asked the controller where the cloud tops were. The controller responded that he didn't have any cloud top reports. The controller queried an air carrier about the cloud layers. The air carrier pilot responded the clouds were below him at maybe 8,000 or 10,000 ft. The accident pilot then responded that he was going to just keep going and that "…hopefully it'll break up here for me open up." This was the last communication from the pilot. The controller reported that radar contact was lost at 1735.

Wreckage and Impact Information

The airplane came to rest in an open field 60 ft west of state Route 285 at a location about 7 ½ miles north of the town of Clines Corners, New Mexico. The airplane came to rest on a magnetic heading of 020 degrees. Impact damage on the airplane indicated that the airplane impacted the terrain in about a 60 degree nose down attitude. The wreckage was contained in one location and a post impact fire ensued. The terrain northwest of the wreckage was scorched from the fire.

The cockpit was destroyed by postimpact fire. The throttle quadrant was visible and the engine controls were in the forward position. The fuselage skin on the right side of the fuselage was burned and crushed. The fuselage skin on the left side of the fuselage was destroyed by fire.

The left wing was destroyed by fire and impact. This skin was crushed rearward. The remaining wing structure was bent upward and twisted rearward beginning just outboard of the flap. The thermal and impact damaged left flap remained partially attached to the wing. The left aileron was destroyed by thermal damage. The aileron push-pull tube was visible and intact along the length of the wing up to the cockpit area.

The right wing was scorched with the inboard section of the wing having been destroyed by the fire. The outboard ¾ of the leading edge and bottom of the wing was crushed rearward. Both the flap and aileron remained attached to the wing. The aileron push-pull tube at the inboard hinge was bent. The push-pull tube was intact throughout the wing up to the cockpit area.

The empennage was intact with the elevator and rudder remained attached to their respective stabilizers. The left side of the empennage sustained thermal damage with the right side being lightly covered with soot. The outboard half of the right stabilizer and elevator were bent upward. The outboard half of the left elevator and stabilizer were bent downward. The leading edge of the vertical stabilizer was crushed rearward and to the right. Both elevator balance weights were separated and located near the wreckage. The elevator and rudder control systems were traced from the flight control surfaces to the cockpit area. All separations within the flight control system were consistent with impact damage.

The trim jackscrew and the flap jackscrew were measured. The longitudinal trim assembly jackscrew indicates the trim was at the takeoff setting. The flap actuator tube measurement equated to the flaps being extended about 10 degrees which is the takeoff flap setti

NTSB Probable Cause

The noninstrument-rated pilot's decision to initiate the flight into known deteriorating weather conditions and his continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which ultimately resulted in a loss of airplane control. Contributing to the accident was the air traffic controller's failure to provide additional assistance to the pilot when it was apparent the pilot was having difficulties.

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