Factual Report: WX possible factor in crash

 - December 19, 2007, 2:05 PM

ROCKWELL AERO COMMANDER 690A, CORTEZ, COLO., JAN. 3, 2004–While circling to land at the Cortez Municipal Airport (CEZ), Aero Commander 690A N700SR–registered to LT Aire and operated by Air West, both of Mesa, Ariz.–was destroyed when it crashed at 12:12 p.m. The sole-occupant commercial pilot was killed. An IFR flight plan had been filed for the Part 91 positioning trip, which was conducted in IMC. The flight originated in Mesa at approximately 10:30 a.m.

The en route portion of the flight was uneventful. At 11:31 a.m., after contacting Denver Center, the pilot–not one of the company’s regular line pilots, but the director of maintenance–was instructed to cross the initial approach fix at or above 12,000 feet and was cleared for the VOR approach to Cortez. The pilot reported passing the CEZ Vortac (the final approach fix) outbound and crossing it again on the inbound. Radar contact was then lost. Two witnesses, a King Air pilot and an airport employee, said they saw the airplane emerge from the overcast, slightly high and fast, and enter a steep left bank. It turned about 90 degrees before disappearing in a snow shower northeast of the airport. They heard no unusual engine noises.

Another witness saw the airplane in a steep bank and at low altitude, “just above the power lines.” Based on the witness’ statement and location, the airplane had turned about 270 degrees. The witness said the wings “wobbled” and the nose “dipped,” then the left wing dropped and the airplane descended “almost vertically.” Members of the local sheriff’s department, who were north of the airport, reported hearing an airplane pass over at low altitude. One member said he heard “an engine pitch change.” He did not see the airplane because it was “snowing heavily,” nor did he hear the impact. The debris field was confined to a 100-foot radius from the impact point. There was no evidence of a lateral energy path.

Weather at CEZ at 12:09 was wind 290 degrees at 10 knots, gusting to 15 knots; visibility half a mile in snow and fog; few clouds 300 feet, ceiling 900 broken, 3,200 overcast; temperature and dew point 0 degrees C; altimeter 29.71; unknown precipitation began 11:57 a.m., ended 6:59 p.m., snow began 6:59 p.m., freezing rain information not available.

Minutes after the accident, another airplane departed Cortez on an IFR flight. The pilot reported, “While waiting for clearance, it began to snow heavily with large wet flakes, and the visibility dropped to about one mile as I could barely see the end of the runway 7,200 feet away. Snow/slush was accumulating on my wings and I was about to taxi back in when I received the clearance to depart. I broke out of the clouds about 3 miles west of the CEZ VOR and the ice quickly sublimated from the wings.”