Mountain flying is a dangerous undertaking in most general aviation aircraft. Recently an old Cessna 172 flying in the mountains crashed in a valley in Utah.
No one has looked at the wreckage to see if a mechanical failure brought the airplane down but examination of pictures of the wreckage reveal that it did not break apart in the air and crashed at the bottom of a deep valley.
Here are a few observations that may bear on the cause of this accident. The airplane was full of people and that made it heavy if not overweight. On its best day a Cessna 172, of that vintage built in the 70’s, fully loaded at sea level may climb at 800 feet/minute. Above sea level like in the mountains and in warm temperatures that climb rate can go to just a few hundred feet a minute.
Depending on the winds in the valleys and on the downslopes of the mountains, downdrafts in excess of 3000 feet per minute are common. Even eddies of unstable warm air rising and descending unevenly in the valleys can cause turbulence and downdrafts which far exceed the ability of a loaded C-172 to outclimb them. In fact the terrain itself will rise at a rate faster than this aircraft can outclimb it.
Some of the most experienced mountain flyers and even gurus in mountain flying have perished doing what…flying in the mountains!
This aircraft’s engine must be carefully examined to see if a loss of power contributed to this tragedy but flying small planes in the mountains have and will continue to produce this kind of accident because when trouble rears its ugly head there is no place to go.
The Wolk Law Firm has successfully handled countless mountain flying accidents.
Arthur Alan Wolk
July 7, 2020