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N55910 accident description

New Mexico map... New Mexico list
Crash location 33.100833°N, 107.804722°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 Truth Or Conseq, NM
33.128405°N, 107.252807°W
32.0 miles away
Tail number N55910
Accident date 07 Oct 2005
Aircraft type Piper PA-28-140
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On October 7, 2005, approximately 1208 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-28-140E, N55910, operated and piloted by a private pilot, was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain approximately 30 miles south-southwest of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (TCS). Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at TCS at the time of the accident. The personal cross-country flight was being conducted under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91. A VFR flight plan had been filed and activated. The pilot was fatally injured. The flight originated from Double Eagle II Airport (AEG), Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 1108, and was en route to Benson, Arizona (E95).

The pilot was a master sergeant and a C-130 mechanic with the United States Air Force. He was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. A close friend and co-worker told Air Force investigators that the pilot departed AEG en route to E95 on the day before the accident, but was forced to turn around near Socorro, New Mexico, due to poor weather. The purpose of the trip was to inspect a Glasair airplane that he wanted to purchase.

The next day, according to FAA documents, the pilot obtained a weather briefing, and filed a VFR flight plan. According to the flight plan, the pilot planned to fly direct to E95. Cruise altitude and airspeed were listed as 8,500 feet msl and 120 knots, respectively. Estimated time en route and fuel on board were listed as 2 hours, 30 minutes and 4 hours, respectively. The pilot departed AEG at 1108, and activated his flight plan at 1109. When he failed to close his flight plan, FAA issued an INREQ (Information Request) at 1511, followed by an ALNOT (Alert Notice) at 1554. The Civil Air Patrol launched an aerial search the next day and on October 9, an Air Force C-130 spotted the wreckage about 30 miles south-southwest of TCS in the Black Range Wilderness area. FAA was notified at 1649, and the ALNOT was cancelled.


The pilot, age 42, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating, dated August 12, 2003, and a mechanic's certificate with an airframe rating, dated March 12, 2005. His third class airman medical certificate, dated March 1, 2005, contained no restrictions or limitations.

A copy of a portion of the pilot's logbook was made available for inspection. The pilot started flying N55910 on April 16, 2004. As of the last recorded logbook, dated October 5, 2005, the pilot had accrued a total of 165.1 hours, of which 55.9 hours were logged in the PA-28-140. His last biennial flight review (BFR) was accomplished on August 21, 2005, in N55910. The duration of the BFR was 1 hour.


N55910 (s/n 28-7325528), a model PA-28-140E, was manufactured by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1973. It was equipped with a Lycoming O-320-E2A, rated at 150 horsepower, driving a Sensenich 2-blade, all-metal, fixed-pitch propeller (m/n 74DM6). The airplane maintenance records were never located but according to the pilot's mechanic-friend, he performed an annual inspection on the airplane on January 20, 2005, when the airplane was repainted. Tachometer and total time was 2,207.2 hours.


Weather at the time of N55910's departure, the following METARs (Aviation Routine Weather Report) were recorded:

AEG AWOS-3 (1105): Wind, 010 at 3 knots; visibility, 9 s.m.; ceiling, 1,600 feet overcast; temperature, 10 degrees C.; dew point, 7 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.24 inches; remarks, A01 P000.

ABQ (1056): Wind, 020 at 3 knots; visibility, 10 s.m. (or greater); ceiling, 2,000 feet overcast' temperature, 12 degrees C.; dew point 7 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.24 inches.

Around the estimated time of the accident, the following METARs were recorded:

TCS ASOS (1153), located 34 n.m. east-northeast of the accident site and at an elevation of 4,853 feet msl: Wind, calm; visibility, 10 s.m. (or greater); ceiling, 2,500 feet overcast; temperature, 14 degrees C.; dew point, 9 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.20 inches.

TCS (1253): AUTO Wind, calm; visibility 10 s.m. (or greater); ceiling, 2,500 feet overcast; temperature, 16 degrees C.; dew point, 9 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.18 inches.

SVC AWOS-3 (1230), located 40 n.m. south-southwest of the accident site at an elevation of 5,446 feet msl: AUTO Wind, 130 degrees at 6 knots; visibility, 10 s.m. (or greater); sky condition, clear; temperature, 19 degrees C.; dew point, 11 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.20 inches; remarks: A01.

SVC (1330): AUTO Wind, 160 at 8 knots; 131V191; visibility, 10s.m. (or greater); sky condition, clear; temperature, 21 degrees C.; dew point, 10 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.17 inches; remarks, AO1.

Approximately 1130, a helicopter crew from the 58th Special Operations Wing filed a pilot report (PIREP). Flying in vicinity of TCS, they reported a 1,300-foot ceiling, with mountain top obscuration to the west.


On October 11, two Air Force investigators repelled to the accident from a hovering helicopter. They reported the accident site was at a location of 33 degrees, 05.62' north latitude, and 107 degrees, 48.08' west longitude, and at an approximate elevation of 8,100 feet msl. According to their report, the wreckage was situated on both sides of an east-west oriented ridgeline. The majority of wreckage was on the south slope. The length of the debris field, from the ridge crest to the southern end of the wreckage path, was approximately 98 feet (30 meters), straight, and on a magnetic heading of 170 degrees. The separated left wing, with leading edge dents and embedded bark, was located on the north side of the ridgeline approximately 49 to 66 feet (15 to 20 meters) below the crest. At the crest of the ridgeline was a toppled tree. There was extensive fire damage to the trees in this area. Only 2 of 3 landing gear wheels were found on the south slope. A small tree on the ridge crest was broken and bore fire damage. There was no other fire damage on the north side of the ridge. A large tree, 32 feet (10 meters) to the south of the ridge top, was completely uprooted and had fire damage. A piece of metal cowling was in the branches of the uprooted tree, about 4 feet from the base. A smaller tree, 9 feet (3 meters) to the right and abeam the large uprooted tree, bore a large gouge consistent with a propeller strike. The propeller had separated from the engine and was found 6 feet (2 meters) south of the small tree and to the right of the uprooted tree. The tips were curled. Airplane manuals and assorted flight publications lay scattered about. A Low Altitude Enroute and Albuquerque Sectional chart were found folded in the plastic pockets of a folder. They were unopened. None were fire damaged.

The horizontal stabilizer separated from the fuselage and was bent around a small tree to the right of the ground scar. It was unburned. Further south and down the slope, the right wing was found bent up and around another tree. The fuselage, including the engine compartment and cockpit, were south of the right wing. The fuselage was twisted but the flight control cables were still connected. The aft portion of the fuselage was lying on its right side. The cockpit and engine compartment were twisted and inverted. The cockpit instruments were destroyed. There was little fire damage to the engine but extensive fire damage to the cockpit. Aluminum globules were pooled around the engine compartment. There was no evidence of an in-flight fire.


An autopsy was performed by the New Mexico Medical Examiner's Office. The cause of death was listed as "thermal injuries and multiple blunt force injuries." FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) performed a toxicological screen. According to CAMI's report, no ethanol, carbon monoxide, or drugs were detected; however, 0.27 (ug/ml) cyanide was detected in blood.


Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center's Quality Assurance Division was asked to examine recorded radar data. The data, in ASCII format, depicted aircraft position using latitude/longitude plots in time sequence, and was loaded into Tactical Mapping Software. The data captured a VFR target, transponder code 1200, proceeding south from AEG shortly after 1100. The target followed Interstate Highway 25 to a point just north of TCS where, at an encoded altitude of 7,100 feet, it turned to a southwest heading and initiated a climb. The target entered the Black Range Wilderness area, and radar contact was lost shortly thereafter. The last recorded time and altitude was 7,500 feet and 1208:25, respectively.

TCS, at an elevation of 4,853 feet msl, reported a ceiling of 2,500 feet ago (above ground level), or 7,353 msl. Mountain top obscuration was reported to the west of TCS. The accident site was reported to be approximately 8,100 feet msl.

NTSB Probable Cause

the pilot's attempt to fly VFR into instrument meteorological conditions, and his failure to maintain terrain clearance. Contributing factors were the reported low ceiling and mountain obscuration, resulting in the pilot being unable to maintain a visual lookout.

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