Final Report: Pilot blamed in caravan crash

 - February 8, 2007, 5:09 AM

CESSNA 208B CARAVAN, CODY, WYO., OCT. 29, 2003. The pilot of FedEx Caravan N791FE, operated by Corporate Air, of Billings, Mont., while holding for better weather on approach to Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, filed a pirep about light rime icing. Visibility was 1.75 statute miles and there was a 200-foot overcast ceiling. After the airplane was cleared for the approach, three witnesses saw it on the downwind leg, just past midfield, at an estimated altitude of 500 feet. Shortly thereafter, one of them heard the engine “spool up to high power…[like reversing] the pitch of the propeller to slow down.” The last radar contact was when the airplane was downwind and nearly abeam the departure end of Runway 4.

Five witnesses said the airplane emerged from the overcast and banked “sharply to the left, then back to the right, then back to the left, then took a hard bank to the right,” rolled inverted and struck the highway just south of the airport perimeter. The airplane slid down the embankment and into a lake, becoming partially submerged. The pilot, the sole occupant of the airplane, was killed.

Witnesses said it was “snowing hard” and the highway was covered with one to two inches of slush. Wreckage examination revealed the flaps were down 30 degrees, the wing deice boots were “ribbed” and the inertial separator was open.

The Cody Unicom operator had responded to the pilot’s query about weather conditions, saying, “I can barely see Beacon Hill, and [the] last known ceiling was 300 feet. UPS diverted without attempt[ing the instrument approach]. Can’t make out any ceiling because snow is too thick.” There were several unclear transmissions between the center controller and the Caravan during the flight and the Center attributed these unclear transmissions to the effects of a powerful solar flare earlier that month.

Several foil packages of allergy sinus gelcaps (containing acetaminophen, chlorpheniramine maleate and pseudoephedrine) and a bottle of Claritin-D 24-hour ER were found in the pilot’s flight bag. These medications, along with sertraline (Zoloft), were found in the pilot’s body.

Drugs, however, were not listed among the causes of the accident. The NTSB blamed it on the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control. Contributing factors included the pilot’s failure to divert to an alternate airport, an inadvertent stall and the snow and icing conditions.