The weather sequence, recorded eight miles to the south at the regional airport, strongly suggests weather as a causal factor.
|KSVC 231955Z AUTO 22010G22KT 10SM SCT100 24/M04 A3009|
|KSVC 232015Z AUTO 21013G20KT 10SM FEW100 23/M04 A3008|
|KSVC 232035Z AUTO 23012G17KT 10SM CLR 23/M03 A3007|
|KSVC 232055Z AUTO 18011G18KT 10SM FEW110 24/M03 A3006|
|KSVC 232115Z AUTO 22011G18KT 10SM FEW100 23/M03 A3005|
|KSVC 232135Z AUTO 18004KT 10SM SCT100 22/M03 A3004|
|KSVC 232155Z AUTO 27021G28KT 10SM BKN100 21/01 A3004|
|>>> 2200Z – ESTIMATED TIME OF ACCIDENT (per initial news reports)|
|KSVC 232215Z AUTO 28017G25KT 9SM -RA FEW025 SCT100 19/03 A3005|
|KSVC 232235Z AUTO 30012KT 10SM SCT100 20/02 A3004|
Clouds and visibility were not an issue, but winds were strong, gusting, and shifting. The automated weather observations were being recorded at twenty-minute intervals, perhaps due to the rapidly changing winds. A half hour before the accident, a single observation offered nearly calm winds of just four knots, straight from the south (thus aligned with the runway). But, the calm was short-lived; the next observation marks the start of a substantial windshift, with strong and gusting crosswinds from the west. Some pilots would refer to this one anomalous weather report as a ‘sucker hole’. There is no report yet as to when the aircraft took off, or how long the flight had been in the air when it came back to land.
The privately owned airport is located 4 miles east of Silver City. The VFR sectional shows Black Peak is nine-miles to the north , looming nearly 3,000 feet above the 5,400 foot long runway surface. This geographic proximity typically increases the likelihood of intense windshifts.
This time of year is known for rapidly shifting weather. However, this accident may be an indicator of a slowly emerging trend that threatens General Aviation. The increased energy in our atmosphere may be causing more intense and more frequent shifts. Because of their low weight and low altitudes of operation, small aircraft may prove to be particularly vulnerable to intensified flight hazards related to climate change.
— The victims were three sophomores (ages 16, 16 and 14) and a retired Air Force colonel and psychologist (age 67). Their charter school is small, with a graduating class of sixteen. The school focuses on ecology and the environment. [article1] – [article2] – [article3]