Accident Piper PA-23-250 Aztec N135LA,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 45319
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Date:Wednesday 8 January 2003
Type:Silhouette image of generic PA27 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Piper PA-23-250 Aztec
Owner/operator:Cowboy Church Of The American West
Registration: N135LA
MSN: 27-7305084
Year of manufacture:1973
Total airframe hrs:5615 hours
Engine model:Lycoming TIO-540-C1A
Fatalities:Fatalities: 4 / Occupants: 4
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Flagstaff, AZ -   United States of America
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Departure airport:Boulder City Municipal Airport, NV (61B)
Destination airport:Midland International Air and Space Port, TX (MAF/KMAF)
Investigating agency: NTSB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
On January 8, 2003, about 1220 mountain standard time, Albuquerque (ABQ) Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) lost radar and radio contact with a Piper PA-23-250, N135LA, near Flagstaff (FLG), Arizona, and the airplane subsequently collided with mountainous terrain about 10 miles north of Flagstaff. The Cowboy Church of the American West was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The private/instrument rated pilot, private rated pilot passenger, and two passengers all received fatal injuries. The personal cross-country flight originated at Boulder City (61B), Nevada, at 1000 Pacific standard time (PST), en route to Midland, Texas. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed at Flagstaff (FLG), and visual flight following was requested at the time of departure. No flight plan was filed.

The airplane collided with trees and mountainous terrain after encountering adverse weather conditions, including clouds, rain, and moderate rime icing. The airplane was on a cross-country flight across northern Arizona and was receiving VFR flight advisories from Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). While en route near Flagstaff at 11,500 feet mean sea level (msl), the pilot advised the controller that he was unable to maintain visual flight due to clouds, rain, and ice, and requested an IFR clearance into Flagstaff. Review of the recorded air-to-ground communications tapes disclosed that the transmission from the airplane was scratchy and of poor quality. The investigation later determined that on the morning of the accident, an underground fiber optic communication line was cut, which disrupted the quality of air-to-ground and ground-to-air communications in northern Arizona, causing broken and garbled services. Landline communications were also affected, which required a nearby Flight Service Station to relay land line messages between the tower and the ARTCC. The controller advised the pilot of rime ice reports at 13,000 feet on his course, and the pilot responded that his altitude was 12,000 feet and he was accumulating some ice. The controller advised the pilot of the airport's location. The pilot's reply was broken and unreadable. The controller asked the pilot if he had the airport in sight, and the pilot responded that no he was in some clouds. The pilot then requested to go to the tower frequency and land, and the controller issued a VFR transponder code and handed the flight off to the tower. About 2 minutes later the pilot reported back to the controller and advised that he was unable to get a visual on the ground and would like to get an IFR clearance into the airport. The controller advised the pilot to climb to 11,000 feet. and enter the published holding pattern southeast of the FLG VOR on the 113-degree radial. The pilot acknowledged the clearance and this was the last communications received from the aircraft. The wreckage was located 10 miles north of the VOR at 8,900 feet msl. Impact signatures and ground scars showed the aircraft collided with mature pine trees in a near wings level attitude while in a shallow descent. A post crash fire destroyed the cockpit, including the navigation radios and related instrumentation. On December 6, 2002, the Flagstaff visual omni range (VOR) navigational aid frequency was changed from 108.2, to 113.85. A partially burned Phoenix sectional chart dated November 1, 2001, was recovered from the wreckage that listed 108.2 as the VOR frequency. No other navigational reference material was recovered from the burned wreckage.

Probable Cause: The pilot's failure to comply with his instrument clearance route instruction and to maintain his assigned altitude. A factor in the accident was the poor quality of radio communications due to the severance of underground fiber optic voice and data lines for the ARTCC, which also affected inter and intra facility landline communications.

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: NTSB
Report number: LAX03FA069
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 2 years and 8 months
Download report: Final report





Revision history:

28-Oct-2008 00:45 ASN archive Added
21-Dec-2016 19:24 ASN Update Bot Updated [Time, Damage, Category, Investigating agency]
08-Dec-2017 18:00 ASN Update Bot Updated [Operator, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
14-Aug-2023 15:41 Captain Adam Updated [[Operator, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]]

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