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N57JD accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Chama, NM
36.903068°N, 106.579479°W
Tail number N57JD
Accident date 28 Jul 1997
Aircraft type Durbin Glasair R
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On July 28, 1997, approximately 1120 mountain daylight time, (MDT) {all times are MDT unless otherwise specified} a Durbin Glasair R, N57JD, collided with terrain while in cruise flight near Cumbres Pass, on Colorado State Highway 17 between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico. The private pilot , who was the sole occupant and builder of the aircraft, received fatal injuries and the aircraft was destroyed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area of the accident and a VFR flight plan was filed for this personal flight conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated about 0530 Pacific daylight time from Rialto, California, with an intended destination of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A fuel stop was made at Grand Canyon, Arizona, and another fuel stop was planned at Lamar, Colorado.

The pilot called Riverside AFSS (Automated Flight Service Station) prior to departure from Rialto, and received a pilot brief and outlook. He then filed an IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan to a VFR (visual flight rules) on top flight plan.

At 0532 PDT the pilot of N57JD called Pomona Radar and advised that he had departed Rialto VFR en route to Oshkosh. He was identified on radar, was assigned a transponder code, and issued traffic reports. At 0541 PDT, N57JD was switched to Los Angeles Center. The pilot called Los Angeles Center and checked in with his assigned transponder code. The pilot was told to standby. There was no response and Los Angeles Center had no further contact with the aircraft.

There is no record of further contact with N57JD by any en route air traffic facilities. At 0921, the pilot of N57JD called Grand Canyon Airport ground control and requested taxi instructions. The aircraft departed Grand Canyon at 0928 and the pilot said he was proceeding direct to Farmington, New Mexico. At 1032, Denver Center broadcast for an aircraft passing 35 miles southwest of Farmington, "squawking 1651" (this had been a code assigned to N57JD earlier in the flight) to "squawk 1200." There was no acknowledgement of this request and the "1651 squawk" continued.

At 1230, a tourist train on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway line (part of the original Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway narrow gauge line from Alamosa, Colorado, to Durango, Colorado,) was passing a point approximately 1/2 mile from the top of Cumbres Pass on the west side when some passengers saw, what was later identified as N56JD, on the mountain side below the rail grade. They reported the sighting to railroad employees, who in turn reported the sighting to local law enforcement personnel.

A review of radar data provided a track of an aircraft "squawking 1651" to a point approximately 4 miles from the accident site where radar contact was lost due to terrain masking. The altitude of the target was 10,000 feet above mean sea level (msl) as was the altitude of the accident site. Cumbres Pass is 10,200 feet msl. The radar track provided evidence that the pilot was apparently following the highway.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate number 1779340 issued December 29, 1980. He was rated in single engine land airplanes and held an instrument rating. In addition, he held a repairman, experimental aircraft builder and an inspection certificate for experimental aircraft, make Durbin/Glasair.

According to FAA records, the pilot held a third class medical certificate with the restriction that he wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision. The certificate was issued March 28, 1996.

According to the pilot's logbook, he had 506 hours of flight time as of his departure on the accident flight. The log reflected that all his flight time was in the accident aircraft. He did not have any instrument time recorded. The log provided information that he had a biennial flight review, in the accident aircraft, during the month of July 1997, and that most of his flying experience was in California, near his home.


The weather observation facility closest to the accident site was Alamosa, Colorado, located approximately 60 miles to the northeast. At the time of the accident, there was a thunderstorm in the distance to the west. The storm was reported as moving to the south.

A railroad maintenance crew was working at the top of Cumbres Pass during the morning of the accident. According to the crew, there were low clouds and rain during the entire day and visibility was less than 1/4 mile at the pass. They reported they heard no sounds during the morning that were unusual, but they also reported they were using heavy equipment which made considerable noise.


The accident site was on a 50 degree slope at 10,000 feet msl elevation. The slope was covered by brush, aspen, and pine trees.

Witness marks provided evidence of tree damage on a level plain from initial impact to the point of impact with the slope. The impact was at the base of the narrow gauge railroad bed. The aircraft was located approximately 20 feet down slope from the road bed with the fuselage upright and both wings separated. It was oriented across the slope of the mountain. The cockpit/cabin area was folded under the aircraft, and was crushed from the top towards the bottom. The foliage between the initial impact point and where the aircraft came to rest was crushed into the slope. At the point of impact, the railroad bed is in a concave curve around the head of a gully. The two-bladed metal propeller remained attached and both blades were solid in the hub. One blade was undamaged and the other was curved aft and bore leading edge gouges. There was a smell of fuel throughout the accident site and residual fuel was found in both wings which had been compromised.

The engine remained attached to the firewall and was crushed from the bottom forward portion in an upward and rearward direction. The firewall was compressed into the cockpit area.

The empennage was intact as was the tail section. There was no occupiable space remaining in the interior of the aircraft. The emergency locator transmitter was a Pointer 3000. It was broken out of its mount and partially crushed. The battery replacement date was September 1999. It was inoperable when tested on scene.

Flight control integrity was established from the cockpit area to the rudder and elevators. It could not be established to the ailerons due to wing separation. Both ailerons were attached and flight control integrity was established within the wings and the tricycle landing gear was in the up position.

The engine was removed from the aircraft and taken to the facilities of Charles Sanford, an Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Technical Counselor, in Chama, New Mexico, where an examination of the engine was conducted.

The engine was a Lycoming IO-360-B1E, and bore the serial number L-23940-51A. The propeller was a Hartzell HC-2YK-1BF, hub serial number D-2201-19, blade design F7666A2, and the blade serial numbers were F-53846 and F53844. Low pitch was 14.0 degrees and high pitch was 30.3 degrees. Propeller diameter was 74 inches. This information matched that listed in the engine/propeller logbook.

The oil sump was pushed up and to the rear as was the oil cooler and exhaust manifold. The accessory section was driven into the firewall and all accessories sustained damage. Continuity was present through the engine drive train and the oil was visually checked to be free of contaminates. Both the engine driven fuel pump and boost pump were operable and contained fuel and there was fuel in the fuel distribution valve The finger strainer was free of contaminates.

Both magnetos turned freely and produced spark at all leads. They were broken free at the mounting pad. The spark plugs were Champion 38S. The electrodes were in good condition and the color of all electrodes was gray with no evidence of soot or oil.

A compression check was conducted using 80 psi input. The cylinders all produced 80 psi cold. Further examination of the cylinders produced no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction.


Custody of the wreckage was maintained by the Baca County Sheriff's Department, except for the engine and propeller. They were released to Mr. Charles Sanford on August 21, 1997.

NTSB Probable Cause

flight by the pilot into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and his failure to maintain sufficient altitude and/or clearance from mountainous terrain. Factors relating to the accident were: the low ceiling, rain, fog, and high/mountainous terrain.

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