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Plane from Palo Alto Airport crashes near Reno

Original post made on Aug 9, 2008

A small airplane that took off from the Palo Alto Airport Thursday evening crashed early Friday morning outside of Reno, Nev., killing the pilot. Officer Brooke Keast of the Washoe County Sheriff's Office said the pilot was a 41-year-old man believed to be from Palo Alto, though his identity has not yet been made public pending notification of his next of kin.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 11, 2008, 4:05 PM

Comments (24)

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Posted by anon.
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2008 at 8:35 pm

Does anyone know who the pilot was?


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Posted by anon
a resident of another community
on Aug 10, 2008 at 10:00 am

Yes, but not sure that I should say just yet. A newer member of the Palo Alto community is what i will say now.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 10, 2008 at 4:47 pm

Cessna 172s (as well as Cherokees) are underpowered for the mountains. I flew them for several years. Experience in mountain flying is an absolute requirement. However, nothing beats having the power to get out of a mistake. Just putting it another way, power prevents mistakes in the mountains.

This appears to be a night flight, in the mountains. Very risky.

anon, if this pilot was, indeed, new to this community was he/she also new to the risks of the Sierra mountains? VFR or IFR? Canyon turn trained?

If engine problems were the cause, then there is not a lot of hope, once the plane is in the mountains. However, this is usually not the problem, as long as the pilot maintains proper fuel mixture.

BTW, I know that I am violating the unwritten rule that other pilots should not question circumstances of a brother/sister pilot, but I think it is time we get over that nonsense. We need to be sober about these conventions, and try to save lives.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2008 at 3:23 pm

How about flying OVER the mountains. Then you don't even have to do canyon turns.


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Posted by old friend
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2008 at 7:17 pm

He was greater than it appears.

Watch for news.

Be Well,

o.f.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 11, 2008 at 7:44 pm

"How about flying OVER the mountains"

Great concept, Jim. However, many pilots get lazy, want to avoid oxygen requirements, save fuel, etc. Those passes are tempting....

IMO, it is a serious mistake to fly underpowered aircraft in the Sierras.


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Posted by brother_pilot
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2008 at 10:45 am

Manipulation of controls and reading of instruments in an airplane is actually quite simple once you understand what they do. It's easy to fly an airplane. The hard part is adequate planning, good decision making, and situational awareness (i.e. knowing where you are relative to the mountains even if you can't see them). Flying over the mountains at night in a single engine airplane can be risky and many will say not a good decsion.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 12, 2008 at 12:35 pm

"reading of instruments in an airplane is actually quite simple once you understand what they do. "

Reverse sensing of VORs has killed many pilots in non-VFR conditions. Even in VFR conditions, flying into box canyons, without the power to get out, or the failure to make a canyon turn soon enough, have killed many pilots.

" Flying over the mountains at night in a single engine airplane can be risky and many will say not a good decsion. "

Well, not nearly as risky as trying to make the passes at night. GPS should improve the situation.


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Posted by brother_pilot
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I think I was married to you once !


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Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2008 at 3:24 pm

It's very sad that someone died in a plane crash. My condolences to the people left behind. I always try to understand what went wrong when these things happen. I have flown from Palo Alto airport (where I got my PP (private pilot's license)) to Reno and back many times. I have flown to and from other small airports in the mountains many times. I know from experience that when over the Sierras, there are no reference points and it looks like one big sea of green. At night, the ground is black, there is no horizon, and you are flying on instruments. However, cities are always lit up at night, as anyone who's flown at night in an airliner knows. They are easy to find. If you can get close to the city you are looking for, that should be good enough navigation. This plane crashed on a mountain side near a small city (Incline Village). I'm guessing he was looking for a place to land at the time. He may have been low on fuel or even out of fuel. Or he may have been trying to use the city as a navigation reference, unaware of the nearby mountains. This pilot had just soloed two months ago, and almost certainly did not have much cross-country experience. I think it was very ambitious for him to try to fly to Reno at night. This would be a dicey flight even for someone who had completed all the required cross-country flights and gotten his PP. When you're out there in the middle of nowhere flying on instruments, it's tough, especially if you are not sure where you are.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm

Jim,

You are understating the issue. John Kennedy, Jr. went down, when he had no real idea of IFR flying. I am IFR rated, yet, I will not even try to fly through the Sierras at night, unless it is over the top.

Frankly, I find your post very naive.

" They are easy to find. If you can get close to the city you are looking for, that should be good enough navigation. "

Try flying via Trona. No navigation there, other than GPS. Try several other passes in the Sierra pass. I have, many times. If a pilot is not IFR rated, he/she should NEVER attempt to jump the Sierra at night. Completely nuts.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2008 at 11:44 pm

This is why I rarely talk about flying anymore. There's always someone who has to act like he's Joe Astronaut. I was saying, in a nice way, that I thought it was a bad idea to try to fly to Reno at night, for someone that inexperienced. I also think it's a bad idea to try to fly through mountain passes any time, day or night. I flew over the mountains many times in a 115 HP Citabria, never had any sort of problem with it. About finding cities at night - from where this plane crashed, he would have had a good view of Incline Village. It would have been the only reference point available, except maybe the moon. I was wondering about how he happened to hit the far side of Mt. Baldy. It's close to Incline Village. Also, I read one account that said his emergency beacon was picked up at about 3 am. 8 pm to 3 am is 7 hours. That would have left him low on gas, even if he crashed an hour or two before someone noticed the beacon.

About IFR - I know that IFR pilots think they're the elite, but I feel that I didn't really become a pilot until I learned aerobatics. I didn't fly in bad weather, didn't fly above FL 18, didn't need the IFR rating. All that really means is you're rated to fly into bad weather. Good luck with that.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2008 at 12:55 am

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention - how are you going to do a canyon turn at night when you can't see the canyons? There's no way you can try to fly through a pass at night. It's all black, the canyons and the mountain tops. And another thing - it's actually easier to find small airports in the mountains at night, because they turn on the rotating beacon, which can be seen from much farther away than the airport runway, assuming the runway lights are on. If this pilot had been able to make it over the mountains, finding Reno would have been easier at night than during the day. It's a big spread-out city that makes a big patch of light on the ground, surrounded by blackness, plus the airport has a rotating beacon. But what I was saying was that it seemed like this pilot got low on fuel (crashed at about 2 am, I'm guessing),found Incline Village in the darkness, couldn't find a runway, and ended up flying into a nearby mountain, possibly trying to get to Truckee-Tahoe airport. Maybe even had to do a power-off landing into the blackness. He did make a bee-line for Reno, though, so maybe he went down much earlier, and just didn't see that mountain. Maybe he was trying to follow Hwy. 431 through the pass to Reno, but that doesn't seem likely, since the road wouldn't have been visible. The preliminary NTSB report won't be out for at least two weeks.


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Posted by incline pilot
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2008 at 9:41 am

Here are the facts: He was vfr on ff to Reno until swr vor at 11,500+/- at which time he apparently canceled just over Alpine Meadows at around 9:15 (see flightaware.com, look for the tail number and get the track log). The moon was illuminated about 40%. That said, it appears that he continued on over the north shore of the lake intending to cross over to Reno following hwy. 431. The road is at 8900' and the peaks where he crashed are around 9500' or so. Mechanical problems aside, looks like bad flight planning. All this about how it's suicide to fly a 172 to Reno at night is pretty extreme.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 13, 2008 at 12:59 pm

incline pilot,

Light, underpowered aircraft in the Sierras should never be flown by low hours pilots. Example: Kearsarge pass. See this link, for an epic example.

Web Link

Even in perfect VFR conditions, making the wrong turn in that pass makes it extremely difficult to get out of the box. More generally, underposered plance get into trouble in the mountains when flying up box canyons. It can, and has happened in the east bay hills, just across the bay.

Pilots with local knowledge and many hours are probably good to go, but I have serious doublts about anybody else, especially at night. Just taking a mountain flight two-day course in not sufficient. Altitude is your friend, if not, necessarily, your savior...no need to thread the needle.

It is beyond belief that this guy thought himself so competent as to make this crazy flight. There are so many red flags on this one.


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Posted by incline pilot
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm

I will stick to my position. This man seems not to have had a reasonable plan for getting from swr to krno. One plan that would have worked would have been to leave the plane at 11.500' from swr and fly directly to reno. Many people learn to fly at Truckee or S. Lake Tahoe with no problem.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 13, 2008 at 1:58 pm

incline pilot,

If you are saying that flying above the highest peaks in the area works, I agree with you. I thought I said as much, above. However, dropping below the peaks, especially at night, VFR, low hours, is crazy. Perhaps his flight plan was OK, but you say he cancelled. Low hour pilots often make impulsive decisions. For example, they try to make it back towards home base, before refueling, thus ignoring the old rule "if you can think you are low on fuel, you are!". I know I made that mistake when I was a low-hour pilot.

Another major mistake that low-hour pilots make in the mountains is fuel weight, expecially if they want to fly out of the airport they just dropped into (example: Sierraville, Dinsmore). They also tend to minimize air density charts. Combine such inexperienced behavior with low power aircraft, and you then have a tragedy coming.


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Posted by incline pilot
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2008 at 4:22 pm

OK, I guess we are on the same page. This person should not have been making this flight. As you said, new pilots can have their hands full on even a simple flight. Could have been distracted for a couple of minutes looking at a map or something like that and just didn't see the terrain creeping up on him. Who knows, too bad.


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 13, 2008 at 4:33 pm

"OK, I guess we are on the same page."

Yes, I agree. As you suggest, new pilots are easily distracted.

It would be a good thing, I think, if new VFR pilots were required to prove competence with basic insturment stuff (e.g. JFK, Jr.). I also think they should be required to pass a serious mountain training course, before they are allowed to fly in the mountains. Truckee would be a good base to offer such courses.


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Posted by 172 G1000 pilot
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2008 at 6:22 pm

From what it appears, the plane was a G1000 172, it should have had TAWS (terrain awareness) and it should have been evident that he was getting close to terrain. Either way, seems like he chose the wrong plane to cross Sierra Nevada. No idea, how come he didnt see the conflict on his MFD with the terrain approaching so close.....strange!


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Posted by Pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 13, 2008 at 6:37 pm

172,

Those gadgets mostly just confuse new VFR pilots. It is much better to keep it high and clear, without bells and whistles, for new pilots. If he had a TAWS, he should have shut it off.

At some point, GPS navigation, fully comprehended, will save lives, because it will provide a map on a screen that so many car drivers are geting used to.

Until then, I say say fly high and fly clear and know your fuel. There are many more caveats, but those three will save many lives.


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Posted by 172 G1000 pilot
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 13, 2008 at 9:16 pm

Just read that he wasnt even a certificated PPL. He was doing some nite landings or some x country time. Wow...unbelieveable, that he would choose Sierra nevada w/o understanding the implications of such high terrain. Either way, he must have understood the TAWS on his plane, its very easy to see that hes getting close to terrain. Its part of his moving map and no additional effort was needed aside from understanding what the colors meant. All this is based on the fact that he didnt have some sort of mechanical issues, i.e this was Contolled flight into terrain and nothing more. Very tragic story regardless, seemed like a great guy!


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Posted by incline pilot
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2008 at 8:12 am

I can't believe any cfi would cut him loose for that route. If I ran his flight school I'd be checking my insurance policy.


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Posted by Student
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 16, 2008 at 12:09 am

What was the tail number? I can't find it on FlightAware.


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