Details of crash of N888GG 17-Jun-2014

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Details of crash of N888GG 17-Jun-2014

Postby Rajay » Sun Jun 29, 2014 1:02 pm

NTSB Identification: WPR14FA231
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Sula, MT
Aircraft: GRUMMAN G-21A
Registration: N888GG
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this accident report.

On June 17, 2014 about 1700 mountain daylight time, a Grumman G-21A airplane, N888GG, (c/n B-70) was destroyed by impact with terrain and a postcrash fire in the parking lot of the Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Area, about 13 miles south of Sula, Montana. The airplane was being operated by the pilot as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country positioning flight under 14 Code of Federal Regulation Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions (IFR) were reported in the area at the time of the accident, and the solo pilot received fatal injuries. The airplane departed Lemhi County Airport (KSMN), Salmon, Idaho, bound for Ravalli County Airport, Hamilton, Montana, about 1640.

During an interview with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on June 18, the owner of the airplane said that the airplane was being repositioned to the Ravalli County Airport for the summer. The airplane arrived at the Dillon Airport (KDLN), Dillon Montana on Monday, June 16, but was unable to continue to Hamilton due to weather. The owner said the pilot was told to remain in Dillon until the weather cleared. The pilot told the owner that he might fly to Salmon the following morning and check the weather along the highway to Hamilton. The owner asked the pilot to telephone him before he departed. The owner said he did not receive a telephone call from the pilot.

During a telephone conversation with the NTSB IIC on June 18, a witness at the Dillon Airport said he had spoken with the pilot after he arrived in Dillon. They talked about weather and routes. The witness said the following morning the airplane departed about 0830, but returned a short time later due to weather. He said the airplane remained in Dillon the rest of the day, and about 1630 the pilot said he'd probably be back in 30 minutes, and departed. The witness did not see the airplane again.

A Ravalli County Sheriff's representative told the IIC that he had spoken to a witness at the Lemhi County Airport who told him the airplane had stopped there, before departing northbound along highway 93 toward Hamilton.

A witness living along highway 93, about the 4,000 foot elevation level, said he had seen the airplane northbound headed toward the mountain pass in the direction of Hamilton. The witness is a pilot and said he had flown the route many times. He said although the airplane was in VFR conditions, and appeared to be at an altitude of about 6,500 feet when he saw it; the pass is higher, and appeared to be obscured. He further stated he could see what he thought was a thunderstorm developing to the west and moving east toward the pass.
The highway 93 mountain pass is just over 7,000 feet in elevation. Located at the summit are a visitor center and the base of operations for a ski area; including a lodge and parking lot.

An employee at the visitor center told the Sheriff's representative that the airplane arrived over her position at a very low altitude, just above the trees, and that it was snowing, and the visibility was about ¼ mile at the time. She said she saw the airplane "spin around" 6 to 7 times descending vertically before it impacted the ground in the parking lot of the ski area.

Upon impact, the airplane burst into flames, initial responders were not able to approach the wreckage due to the intense heat and flame.

On June 18, the airplane was examined at the accident site by the NTSB IIC, accompanied by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air safety inspector. The investigation is continuing.
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Re: Details of crash of N888GG 17-Jun-2014

Postby Rajay » Sun Jun 29, 2014 1:09 pm

Some of the "eyewitness" reports in the media, however, do not add up for me. For example...

Lost Trail plane crash


June 19, 2014 6:00 am

By PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic

LOST TRAIL PASS — Scott and Sadie Grasser will never forget the sound an airplane makes when it crashes.

“It’s a very distinct noise,” Scott Grasser said Wednesday. “When you hear an airplane crash, you know exactly what’s happened.”

The couple had just finished hosting a woody biomass workshop at the lodge at Lost Trail Ski Area late Tuesday afternoon when they heard the sound of airplane coming in way too close to their building.

“And then there was this big crash and vibration,” Grasser said.

The couple ran outside and met one of their longtime employees running the opposite direction.

Aaron Hoffman of Salmon, Idaho, was in his car and just getting ready to pull out of the parking lot when 50 feet away the antique Grumman G-21 Goose amphibious aircraft literally fell from the sky and burst into flames when it hit the ground.

“It fell out of the sky right next to his car,” Grasser said. “By the time we got outside, there was literally nothing we could do. It was a huge ball of flame.”

Another witness told Ravalli County Undersheriff Steve Holton the plane barely cleared the trees right behind the shop.

“When she first saw the plane, it was coming from the south,” Holton said. “It cleared the trees by just a few feet. She said it was spinning.”

As bad as the accident was, Grasser said it could have been much worse.

There were 60 people at the workshop through the Idaho governor’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Northwest.

Hoffman was the last to leave.

“I believe there were cars parked right in the spot where the plane crashed,” Grasser said. “People had only left 15 minutes to a half hour earlier. We were just very fortunate.”

“We believe that pilot did everything he could,” Grasser said. “I’m sure he knew he was in a horrible spot. He did what every honorable pilot would do and tried to save as many people as he could.”

“We are obviously very shook up over this,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the pilot’s family.”

Continuous flames

Seattle tourists Rick McGee and Julie Gomez had just reached the intersection of Highways 43 and 93 at Lost Trail Pass when the plane crashed.

“It had started to snow very hard when we saw the rest area,” McGee said. “We pulled in at the rest area and the lady at the info center was coming out. We could hear the plane, and she was pointing and circling her arm — she said, ‘It’s spinning, it’s spinning!’”

McGee and Gomez didn’t see the plane fall, but they did see the fireball as it exploded on impact behind the information building. There were several smaller explosions and pops after the initial blast.

“I’ve seen planes crash before, but I’ve never seen a plane go up so fast — so quick,” Gomez said. “It was continuous flames for four or five minutes.”

After learning that law enforcement and fire crews were on the way, McGee and Gomez resumed their road trip toward Missoula. They said the weather had been switching from rain to heavy snow to blue sky most of the day.

Searching for clues

The aircraft started its journey in Florida. Holton said the pilot took over in Minnesota and was shuttling it to Montana when the crash occurred.

Holton said the man’s wallet and identification were found in the burned wreckage.

The pilot’s name is being withheld pending confirmation of his identification and notification of the family.

The Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department was scheduled to arrive on scene Wednesday afternoon to gather the remains.

National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator Larry Lewis and Jeffrey Simmons, an investigator from the Federal Aviation Administration, were on site early Wednesday afternoon to begin determining the cause of the crash.

The burned-out structure was still emitting puffs of smoke as the men started to look over the scene.

Lewis said the airplane appeared to come straight down into the ground and there was no evidence that the pilot planned to land.

The landing gear was not deployed and the flaps were up.

“The aircraft wasn’t in landing configuration,” Lewis said.

Over the next few days, Lewis said, he will talk with witnesses of the crash, look at maintenance records and the pilot’s background, and interview people at airports the pilot used to search for clues on the probable cause of the accident.

Lewis expected it would take between six months and a year before the final accident report was complete.

Lewis said the aircraft was an antique.

“It’s old school,” he said. “It was probably built in the late 1930s or early 40s. There’s not a lot of them left.”

Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney contributed to this story.
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Re: Details of crash of N888GG 17-Jun-2014

Postby Rajay » Sun Jun 29, 2014 1:36 pm

In that piece, the witnesses, first responders, and local LEO's told the reporters and FAA and NTSB investigators that:

"the plane barely cleared the trees right behind the shop" and "it cleared the trees by just a few was spinning."

And that:

We believe that pilot did everything he could...He did what every honorable pilot would do and tried to save as many people as he could.”

And "It’s spinning, it’s spinning!"

But also that:

"The airplane appeared to come straight down into the ground and there was no evidence that the pilot planned to land."

Now I can't reconcile "barely clearing the trees behind the shop" and coming "straight down into the ground" in the middle of what appeared in the photos to be a large parking lot with no trees anywhere close by. The first suggests some sort of directional glidepath but the "spinning" and "straight down" suggest very much otherwise. It was also reported that there was no sliding or skid marks - that the aircraft did not move from its initial impact point. That reinforces the "spinning" and "straight down" testimony.

I don't mean to disparage the pilot either (so please don't take it that I am) but the other testimony that he "did everything he could" and "did what every honorable pilot would do and tried to save as many people as he could" was more likely just a projection of wishful thinking on the part of the witnesses. If the plane really was spinning straight down as the evidence suggests, then the pilot in effect had no control at all and there was no way that he intentionally guided or re-directed it to miss anything. They also said that most of the people who had been at the ski resort for the conference had already left 15 to 30 minutes earlier - so there essentially weren't really very many people still there to worry about missing.

It is clear to me from all of this, as I have often heard before, that eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. I'm sure the FAA and NTSB investigators will have a challenging time ahead of them in trying to figure out what really happened to this Goose and its pilot.
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