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N2526L accident description

New Mexico map... New Mexico list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Angel Fire, NM
36.393088°N, 105.285009°W
Tail number N2526L
Accident date 25 Jun 2000
Aircraft type Cessna 172H
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On June 25, 2000, approximately 1900 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 172H, N2526L, was destroyed when it collided with trees during initial climb, then impacted terrain and burned at Angel Fire, New Mexico. The private pilot and one passenger were fatally injured. The other passenger escaped with minor injuries. 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 originated at Angel Fire Airport approximately 1855.

According to the Las Vegas, New Mexico, Municipal Airport manager, N2526L arrived there on the evening of June 24. The pilot told him they were unable to fly to Angel Fire because it was night and he was unfamiliar with the mountainous terrain. They were given permission to sleep in a U.S. Forest Service trailer parked nearby. The airport manager said he heard the airplane take off as he was coming to work the next morning approximately 0615.

According to a written statement submitted by a Ross Aviation line serviceman, he arrived for work at the Angel Fire Airport approximately 0700 and found N2526L parked on the ramp. He said the airplane must have arrived early that morning "because there was no dew on it," and it had not been there the night before when he closed approximately 1800. He chocked the airplane and tied it down. Approximately 1730, "three college age adults. . .with backpacks" arrived and the pilot requested that the airplane be "topped off." The lineman suggested that he depart with a light fuel load "since temperatures were near 80 degrees F." The pilot agreed and purchased 18 gallons (9 gallons per side). The pilot and his passengers then took a shuttle to a nearby restaurant. Later, the lineman drove them back to the airport. The pilot paid his fuel bill, then telephoned the Albuquerque Flight Service Station (FSS) for a weather briefing for a proposed VFR flight from Angel Fire to Amarillo, Texas. After loading the airplane, they departed.

Approximately 1850, the lineman watched as the airplane took off on runway 35 (8,900 ft. x 100 ft., asphalt, 0.64% downhill gradient), turned and headed south. "I could tell they were having trouble gaining altitude," he wrote. He tried calling the pilot on the radio but got no response. The airplane turned around over the town and came back towards the airport, "still only about 200-300 feet AGL [above ground level]." The lineman radioed the pilot again and said, "If you guys are having trouble, bring it back." The pilot replied, "I think we're okay. We're just trying to climb so we can fly south down the valley." The pilot confirmed he had leaned the mixture. The lineman watched as the airplane again turned south and disappeared behind trees south of town near the golf course.

The surviving passenger, who was seated in the left rear seat, was interviewed by telephone and later submitted a written statement. She stated that only the pilot wore earphones, so the two front seat occupants conversed loudly. She recalled the pilot saying they had a "foul plug" during engine start and taxi, but he was able to clear it during the engine run-up. After the takeoff, she lay across the rear seats and tried to nap. She recalled the front seat passenger say, "We almost hit that tree." The pilot replied, "Hold on. I'm going to try to land." She looked up just as the airplane began hitting the trees. After impact with the ground, she saw the front occupants were slumped over and their seats had slid forward. She was able to exit via the left door. The airplane was then on fire.

Numerous witnesses saw the low flying airplane. One witness, sitting on his deck, watched as the airplane came over his house at low altitude. He said the airplane clipped trees on his property, spun around, hit the roadway in front of his house, and immediately caught fire. While he telephoned 9-1-1, his wife, a nurse, went to the scene to render assistance. According to the Angel Fire Police Department, they were notified of the accident at 1900, the first officer reported on scene at 1905, the ambulance arrived at 1910, and the fire department arrived at 1912.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight at a location of 36 degrees, 21.604' north latitude, and 105 degrees, 18.032' west longitude, and at an elevation of 8,735 feet msl (above mean sea level).


The pilot held a private pilot certificate, dated May 29, 1998, with an airplane single-engine land rating. He was an instrument student at Central State College in Killeen, Texas. He also held a second class airman medical certificate, dated July 30, 1999, with the limitation, "Must wear corrective lenses."

The pilot's logbook was never located. According to his most recent application for medical certification, he indicated he had accumulated 135 total flight hours, of which 45 hours had been accrued in the previous six months.


N2526L (s/n 17255726), a model 172H, was manufactured in 1966 by the Cessna Aircraft Company. It was equipped with a Continental O-300-D engine (s/n 35286-D-6-D), rated at 145 horsepower, and a McCauley 2-blade, all metal, fixed pitch climb propeller (m/n 1C172/EM 7653). It had a gross weight of 2,300 pounds, and a service ceiling of 13,100 feet.

According to the maintenance records, the last annual inspection on the airframe and engine was accomplished on April 8, 2000, at a tachometer reading of 1,329.5 hours. Total time-in-service for both airframe and engine was 3,683.2 hours. At that time, the engine had accrued 948.4 hours since last major overhaul, which was done on February 27, 1994. The hours recorder on the tachometer was unreadable at the accident site due to thermal damage.


Angel Fire Airport is not equipped with an automated weather recording system (AWOS, AMOS, METAR). Some weather instruments are located in the airport office and, according to the lineman, at 1915, the temperature was about 80 degrees F., and the barometric pressure was 30.20 inches of mercury. He did not recall the wind direction or velocity.

The nearest weather reporting station was the AWOS (Automated Weather Observation System) at Taos, New Mexico, Municipal Airport, located 24 miles west of Angel Fire, at an elevation of 7,091 feet msl. At 1855, it recorded the following observation: WIND 260 DEGREES AT 8 KNOTS; VISIBILITY, 10 STATUTE MILES; SKY CONDITION CLEAR; TEMPERATURE, 29 DEGREES C. (84.2 DEGREES F.); DEW POINT, -2 DEGREES C. (28.4 DEGREES F.); ALTIMETER, 30.14 INCHES OF MERCURY.


The airplane first struck a large pine tree, 3 feet in diameter, taking off the top about 30 to 40 feet above the ground. About 27 feet beyond was a dead tree, on the flight path centerline, with its top sheared off. At the 39-foot mark, 20 feet to the left of the flight path centerline, was another pine tree with its top missing. At the 42-foot mark, on flight path centerline, was a 7-inch diameter aspen tree with its top cut off. There were 10-inch chop marks on two fallen limbs, measuring 5 and 8 inches in diameter. At the 93-foot mark was the main body of wreckage. The swath through the trees was on a magnetic heading of 212 degrees. The airplane spun around and impacted an unimproved road embankment in a nose down, right wing 30 degrees low attitude. The fuselage rested on a magnetic heading of 328 degrees. The descent angle after tree impact was measured to be 26 degrees.

The cabin area was gutted. The inboard sections of both wings, including the fuel tanks, were burned. The engine had been driven aft against the firewall, with the vacuum pump making penetration. All mounts were broken with the exception of the left forward mount. The propeller turned by hand with difficulty, and resulted in movement of the crankshaft, pistons, and camshaft. Control continuity was established between all control surfaces and the mid cabin area.

Examination of the propeller revealed chordwise scratches on the cambered surfaces, with little torsional blade twisting. Both blades were bent aft slightly. Neither blade bore significant leading edge damage. The spinner had a spiral-type crush.

Examination of the cockpit revealed the mixture control and throttle were full forward. The primer was in and locked. All circuit breakers were closed. The flap switch was broken, but the flap jackscrew measured 3.5 inches. According to the Cessna Aircraft Company, this equates to a setting of nearly 20 degrees down (3.8 inches = 20 degrees down).


Autopsies and toxicology screens (#3294-600-8C; #3295-600-8C) were performed by the New Mexico State Medical Examiner's Office in Albuquerque. In addition, FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) conducted a toxicology screen (#200000160001). According to the medical examiner's report, no drugs of abuse were detected, but 0.011% ethanol and less than 5% carbon monoxide were detected in the pilot's heart and femoral blood, respectively. CAMI's report indicated no ethanol or drugs were detected. Carbon monoxide and cyanide tests were not performed.


The accident site was located 4.2 miles from the Angel Fire Airport. The airport is at an elevation of 8,382 feet msl, and the elevation at the accident site was 8,735 feet msl, a difference of 353 feet. An altimeter setting of 30.20 inches of mercury would decrease pressure altitude to 8,102 feet msl at the airport. Factoring in a temperature of 80 degrees F. (26.7 degrees C.), density altitude would increase to 11,197 feet msl.

Taking the last known airplane empty weight of 1,374 pounds, adding the FAA medical certificate weight of the pilot and the Texas driver's license weights of his two passengers (170, 170, 120 pounds, respectively), at least half fuel tanks (18 gal. x 6 lbs./gal. = 108 pounds), and allowing for three knapsacks (30 lbs.), it is estimated the airplane weighed 1,987 pounds.

Maintaining the best rate of climb airspeed of 78 mph (or 1.3 miles per minute), the airplane should have been able to climb 324 feet per minute, or 249 feet per mile, under no wind conditions and at an outside air temperature of 27 degrees F., not at the 80 degrees F. temperature that existed at the time of the accident. These figures were corroborated by a similar performance study made by the Cessna Aircraft Company.


In addition to the Federal Aviation Administration, parties to the investigation included the Cessna Aircraft Company and Teledyne Continental Motors.

The wreckage was released to the insurance company's representative on June 27, 2000.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's improper inflight decision to prematurely attempt a climb towards rising terrain before sufficient altitude had been attained that would assure adequate obstacle clearance. Factors were high density altitude and trees.

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