Report: Instructor Warned Minn. Pilot Before Fatal Crash
A flight instructor had warned a Minnesota man of the dangers of flying his single-engine airplane over the mountains of northwestern Wyoming just weeks before the crash that killed the pilot and three of his sons two years ago, a new federal report says.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday published its report on the Oct. 25, 2010, crash in Wyoming's Wind River Range that killed Luke Bucklin, 41 of Minneapolis, 14-year-old twins Nate and Nick, and 12-year-old Noah.
Luke Bucklin was president and co-founder of the Bloomington, Minn.-based Web development company Sierra Bravo Corp.
The NTSB report states that a flight instructor had traveled to the Minneapolis area a few weeks before the crash to provide the training Bucklin needed to get his commercial certificate. Bucklin told the instructor that he intended to fly his single-engine, 1977 Mooney propeller plane to Jackson, in northwestern Wyoming.
Michael Huhn, air safety investigator with the NTSB in southern California, authored his agency's report. He identified the flight instructor who worked with Bucklin as Walter Nindl. Attempts to reach Nindl for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
"The (instructor) reported that he advised (Bucklin) about the potential hazards of a flight in that airplane in that area at that time of year," the NTSB report states. "The (instructor) reported that he specifically cautioned the pilot that since the airplane was not turbocharged or pressurized, and was not equipped for flight into known icing, there was a consequent need for the pilot to plan and operate any flights accordingly, in order to provide sufficient safety margins and escape options."
The report states that Bucklin told the instructor that he had flown into Jackson several times and knew the risks. "The (instructor) reported that the pilot gave him the impression that the pilot would conduct the upcoming flight in compliance with the (instructor's) suggestions," it states.
A voice recording of Bucklin's doomed flight shows he was struggling to gain elevation over Wyoming's highest mountains in bad weather immediately before the crash.
"Descending rapidly," Bucklin says on the recording. The Associated Press obtained the recording last year through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Reporting severe mountain waves," Bucklin said about a minute later, referring to wind currents over the peaks. "Probably going to (garble)."
Mountaineers found the wreckage of Bucklin's plane and the bodies of the four victims after a weeklong search.
Huhn said the FAA recommends special training and education for pilots who intend to fly over mountainous regions. "It's operations in mountainous terrain so it's a different world, if you will," he said. "It's different from flatland flying."
Huhn said his agency's investigation couldn't determine whether Bucklin truly encountered mountain waves, which can create powerful downdrafts on the lee side of mountain peaks under certain conditions. "But again, mountain waves, and other weather phenomena associated with mountains, that's all in that basic exposure training to operations in mountainous areas," he said.
Following the Bucklin crash, the NTSB last year proposed new safety protocols for the Jackson Hole airport. Those are still pending before the FAA.
The NTSB recommended that the Jackson Hole airport staff should decide the safest routes for flying over mountains in the area, rather than allowing pilots to determine their own flight paths.
"The Jackson Hole airport is surrounded by mountainous terrain that can be tricky to navigate for pilots unfamiliar with the area," the NTSB stated in a statement last year. The agency also suggested installing air traffic control software to alert controllers when planes are flying too low in the area.
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