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N554MB accident description

Nevada map... Nevada list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Hawthorne, NV
38.524644°N, 118.624578°W
Tail number N554MB
Accident date 26 Sep 1998
Aircraft type Beech 95-B55
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On September 26, 1998, at 0830 hours Pacific daylight time, a Beech 95-B55 airplane, N554MB, collided with mountainous terrain following the loss of engine power approximately 10 miles northwest of Hawthorne, Nevada. The aircraft, owned and operated by High Performance Aircraft, Incorporated, was destroyed in the collision sequence and post crash fire. The pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The personal flight originated at Red Bluff Municipal Airport, Red Bluff, California, at an unknown time.

According to family members, the pilot told his wife that he was going to leave Red Bluff approximately 0530-0600 to depart for St. George, Utah. He was going to St. George to run in a marathon race.

According to records from the Rancho Murietta AFSS, the pilot called the flight service station at 0635 and obtained a full weather briefing. He told the briefer that he planned to fly visual flight rules (VFR) from Red Bluff to Sacramento to Reno at 11,500 feet, with a planned departure time of 0730. The briefer told the pilot that VFR flight was not recommended. The pilot asked about flying from Red Bluff south to the Fresno/Bakersfield area, then eastward across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to St. George, Utah. The briefer told the pilot that VFR was not recommended due to mountain obscuration, icing, and turbulence along his proposed route of flight.

The pilot took off from the airport at an unknown time, activated his VFR fight plan, and began to talk with air traffic control (ATC).

The aircraft was on VFR flight following with Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). At 0824:44, the pilot told the controller that he was "going to climb up to fifteen five (15,500 feet), or climb to fifteen to catch a hard IFR." The controller asked him, "November four mike bravo roger and do you want your IFR at this time?" At 0824:55, the pilot replied "if it's possible we'll take it now." The controller verified that the pilot's destination was St. George, and then at 1825:24, cleared the pilot to St. George Airport via "direct Tonopah direct climb and maintain flight level, correction climb and maintain one five thousand (15,000)."

At 0827:52, the pilot called the controller and said that he had a system failure. The controller asked him what type of system failure he had, and the pilot replied that he had lost control of the airplane. At 0828:15, the pilot informed the controller that he was "losing altitude two thousand feet a minute."

The following section is a verbatim transcript of recorded conversations with the pilot and ATC. The recorded conversation contains references to direction, which are incorrect given that the airplane was traveling in an easterly direction. The pilot asked the controller if he could get a heading for the closest airport. The controller told him that the closest airport was behind him on a heading of zero seven zero (070 degrees). The controller issued a terrain alert for the pilot at 11,000 feet at 0829:18. He asked the pilot if he could hold that altitude. The pilot replied that he was holding nine five (9,500 feet). The controller asked him if he had the terrain and ground in sight and the pilot replied "I do not."

The terminal control facility at NAS Fallon recorded conversations with the pilot on the emergency guard frequency of 121.5/243.0. At 0831:09, the pilot reported, "121.5, Baron 554MB, I've got an engine out in the clouds." He then reported that he was holding 9,500 feet. At 0832:10, he said "mayday mayday."

The pilot replied to a query by a passing Northwest Airlines airplane, that attempted to contact him at the controller's request, by stating, "I'm descending through 9,500 . . . can't hold altitude, terrain is around me . . . I could sure use a radar vector somewhere . . ."

The controller asked the Northwest airplane the Baron's location. The Northwest Airlines pilot advised the controller that it sounded like N554MB had said that he was descending out of 9,500 feet over Tonopah on a heading of 090 degrees, direct west.

NAS Fallon FACTS radar data was reviewed. At 0823:43, the accident airplane flight path showed the airplane at 13,700 feet on a ground track of 101 degrees with an estimated ground speed of 190 knots. Approximately 3 minutes later at 0826:34, the flight path indicated it was at 14,600 feet with a ground track of 079 degrees, and an estimated ground speed of 130 knots. At 0827:47, the radar data indicated it was at 13,700 feet with a ground track of 237 degrees, and an estimated ground speed of 110 knots. The last confirmed radar hit on the airplane was at 0829:42, and indicated it was at 10,900 feet with a ground track of 247 degrees, and an estimated ground speed of 120 knots.


The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single and multiengine land and instrument airplane ratings. His most recent flight review located in his logbook was dated December 2, 1995. No other entries were found to indicate a more recent flight review. A review of the pilot's logbook indicated that he had logged 21.5 hours of flight time during 1998. The 21.5 hours were logged as pilot-in-command, cross-country, and actual instrument time. All the flights were completed in the accident aircraft, which he was a co-owner. His most recent logbook entry was dated August 18, 1998. A review of his medical certificate information supplied by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicates he had approximately 1,800 hours of total flight time as of the date of his last medical examination dated December 1, 1997. His most recent medical certificate was a second-class with a restriction that he must wear corrective lenses.

The operator of the aircraft told Safety Board investigators that he had flown with the pilot (referred to by the operator as "Danny") numerous times. He said that the pilot was a very conservative pilot, and a good "stick and rudder pilot." He said that the pilot would fly "mild layer" IFR, but he had never seen him fly "hard" IFR flights. He said that if the weather were really bad, Danny would drive to the location by car. He also mentioned that he had never seen him fly over the mountains, instead he would fly up a valley to his location; and he had never seen him fly over mountainous terrain in IFR conditions. He mentioned that he wasn't sure if Danny would know what to do if he was picking up ice. He said to the best of his knowledge, Danny had never flown into actual icing conditions in the airplane. The pilot of the accident airplane had been a 50 percent owner in the accident airplane for 3 years prior to the accident date.


A review of the pilot's credit card statement, and review of the truck fuel slip indicate that the pilot purchased fuel at the Red Bluff Airport after he arrived on September 25, 1998. The truck fuel slip indicates a purchase of 92.8 gallons of Avgas 100LL for a total purchase price of $181.80.

The aircraft was not equipped with any ice protection on the leading edges of the wings, horizontal stabilizer, or vertical stabilizer; therefore, according to Raytheon Aircraft, this aircraft was not equipped to fly into known icing conditions.

Under the section entitled "Normal Procedures" of the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH), it lists various equipment that when installed and operable will provide the pilot a degree of protection when icing conditions are inadvertently encountered. It states that since this equipment has not been demonstrated to meet current requirements for flight into known icing conditions, the pilot must exit such conditions as soon as possible if ice accumulates on the airplane. The equipment required for icing conditions is appended to this report.

Section X of the POH states that pilot's must carefully review the POH and FAA approved airplane flight manual in order to ascertain the required operable equipment needed for flight into icing conditions. In addition, they must ascertain from the same source the limits of approval or certification of their airplane for flight into icing conditions and plan the flight accordingly, if icing conditions are known or forecast along the route.

The POH also states that "an airplane which is not approved or certified for flight in icing conditions, or which does not have all critical areas protected in the required manner by fully operational anti-icing equipment must not be exposed to icing encounters of any intensity."

The POH also states that if a minimum speed for flight into icing conditions is not specified in the manual, the following minimum indicated airspeeds must be maintained:

All Baron and Travel Air Models - 130 KIAS

The pilot must remain aware of the fact that if he allows his airspeed to deteriorate below this minimum speed, he will increase the angle of attack of his airplane to the point where ice may build up on the under side of the wings. Due to distortion of the wing airfoil, increased drag and reduced lift, stalling speeds will increase as ice accumulates on the airplane. Ice buildup on unprotected surfaces will increase drag, add weight, reduce lift, and generally adversely affect the aerodynamic characteristics and performance of the airplane. It can progress to the point where the airplane is no longer capable of flying.


A review of the tape of the FSS briefing that the pilot received from Rancho Murietta AFSS revealed that the pilot initially told the briefer that he was going to fly from Red Bluff to St. George, and he was trying to pick out the best route. The pilot asked the briefer what the Red Bluff-Sacramento-Reno route looked like for VFR flight. The pilot told the briefer he was planning to fly the route at 11,500 feet and estimated 3 1/2 hours time en route. The briefer told the pilot that "VFR flight is not recommended." He told the pilot that there was an AIRMET in effect for IFR conditions near Reno and the first part of his route, and also an AIRMET in effect for mountain obscurations for the entire route of flight. He concluded, "VFR flight is not recommended all day."

The pilot then asked about routing from Red Bluff south, heading toward Fresno across to Las Vegas and cutting over to St. George. The briefer told the pilot again that "VFR flight was not recommended." The pilot again changed his routing and said he'd head down toward Bakersfield and cut over toward Las Vegas and over to St. George. The briefer said there was an AIRMET in effect for southern Utah for occasional moderate turbulence in effect below 18,000 feet, an AIRMET for icing from Modesto-Wilson Creek Line northward and Modesto-Red Bluff eastward for occasional moderate rime/mixed icing in clouds and precipitation from 8,000 feet to 18,000 feet. He told the pilot that there were thunderstorms over the Sierra's, southern California, and throughout Nevada and Utah. He said there was "a weakening cold front moving through northern California at this time." The briefer told the pilot that the forecast for the Sacramento Valley and northern portion of the valley was 4,000 feet scattered/broken, 8,000 feet broken, isolated moderate rain showers, tops to 15,000 feet, occasional ceilings 1,000 feet broken, visibility 3-5 miles in mist.

The forecast for the southern Sierra's was 12,000 feet broken; occasional ceilings 8,000 feet broken; isolated moderate rain showers with tops 20,000 feet and cumulonimbus tops to 30,000 feet. The forecast for the southern portion of Nevada was 12,000 feet scattered, between 1000 and noon local time, gradually becoming 10,000 to 12,000 feet scattered to broken, isolated moderate rain showers and thunderstorms and moderate rain. Cumulonimbus tops to 30,000 feet.

A Safety Board meteorological factual report is appended to this file. According to the report, a surface analysis chart prepared by the National Weather Service (NWS) National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) for 0800 September 26 showed a large area of low pressure over Nevada and eastern California. The chart indicated mostly overcast cloud conditions over California and central/northern Nevada.

According to an eyewitness, the U.S. Navy Search and Rescue H-60 helicopter, which was launched to attempt to locate the missing airplane, flew "through the clouds" and went down on the east side of the mountain. The eyewitness reported that he heard a "loud metallic crash and could no longer hear the motor."

The Surface Aviation Weather Observations were from Fallon Naval Air Station (KNFL), Nevada. This was the closest weather observing facility to the accident site. The field elevation of Fallon is 3,934 feet mean sea level (msl), located about 005 degrees at 54 nautical miles from the accident location.

Time 0726; type METAR; (aviation routine weather report) wind 360 degrees at 8 knots; visibility 10 miles, present weather none; sky condition scattered 900 feet broken, 1,500 feet broken, 5,500 feet cumulonimbus broken 7,000 feet overcast, 10,500 feet; temperature 9 degrees Celsius; dew point 8 degrees Celsius; altimeter setting 29.79 inHg; remarks cumulonimbus distant northeast dissipated cumulonimbus distant southwest move northeast.

Time 0814; type METAR; wind 010 degrees at 9 knots; visibility 10 miles; present weather none; sky condition scattered 1,200 feet broken 2,200 feet overcast 4,200 feet cumulonimbus; temperature 9 degrees Celsius, dew point 8 degrees Celsius; altimeter setting 29.80 inHg; remarks cumulonimbus overhead move northeast.

Pilot Reports (PIREP's) for California and Nevada archived at the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), Asheville, North Carolina, were obtained for the period from 0200 to 1200, inclusive. They indicated that there were reports of icing in the area from other general aviation aircraft. The PIREP's indicated both light clear, and rime icing between 10,000 feet and 14,000 feet.

A review of the Aviation Area Forecast's (FA) for the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain Areas issued September 26, 0345, indicated at 0300 cold front reached from western Wyoming across extreme northern Utah and northern Nevada to northern California. By 2200, the cold front will lie from northwestern Colorado across southern Utah to central California. Upper level low was over northeastern California with trough to western Montana. By 2200, upper low will move to central California with trough to southeastern Montana.

A review of the FA forecast for the Rocky Mountain Area issued September 26, 0345, indicated at 0300 cold front reached from western Wyoming across extreme northern Utah and northern Nevada to northern California. By 2200, cold front will lie from northwestern Colorado across southern Utah to central California. Upper level low was over northeastern California with trough to western Montana. By 2200, upper low will move to central California with trough to southeastern Montana.

In-Flight Advisories

AIRMETS issued by the AWC and pertinent to N554MB's route of flight, in part follow:

Airmet ZULU, issued September 26, 0045 occasional moderate rime/mixed icing in clouds in precipitation between 8,000 feet to FL 180 (Flight Level 18,000 feet.) AIRMET SIERRA contained information for mountain obscuration in clouds and precipitation along the route of flight.

The Safety Board Meteorologist concluded that there were no convective SIGMETs, nonconvective SIGMETS, or Center Weather Advisories that were issued for the accident area.


The airplane impacted a rock outcropping in mountainous terrain at the juncture of two ridgelines. The area was above the timberline and was vegetated by grasses and occasional clusters of small trees. Site elevation was approximately 8,900 feet above mean sea level (msl) at coordinates 38 degrees 31.11 minutes north latitude and 118 degrees 48.42 minutes west longitude. Hawthorne Municipal Airport was on a magnetic bearing of 064 degrees at 8 nautical miles.

The debris field was scattered along a magnetic bearing of 140 degrees. All of the debris found was within 180 feet of the initial impact point except the left propeller and hub ass

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's disregard of the weather briefing information and his decision to attempt flight into forecast adverse weather conditions, which led to an encounter with icing conditions beyond the performance capability of the aircraft. The pilot's disregard for the pilot operating handbook prohibition against flight into icing conditions is also causal.

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