ANALYSIS: the Beech Debonair Crash at Telluride, on 2/16/14

Fatal Air Crash

The tragic crash of a Beechcraft BE33 west of the Telluride Airport is a head-scratcher, not least due to the fact that the three fatalities were all very experienced pilots. All three were reportedly members of Arizona Cloudbusters Inc., a flying club in Chandler, AZ, and the accident aircraft was a rental out of their flying club.

The Telluride Airport website cautions pilots about mountain flying hazards, and notes that, with an elevation of 9,070′, Telluride is North America’s highest commercial airport.

The aircraft is believed to have taken off at time 1820Z (11:20AM local time). As indicated by the series of automated weather observations, it appears the pilot chose to take off into deteriorating conditions. Due to airport/weather geometry and local terrain, it is possible the pilot took off toward the west, with a tailwind.* The runway slopes downward to the west, dropping 32′ in elevation over the 7,100′ runway length. [link to Airport Diagram]*A phone call by aiREFORM produced an anonymous confirmation, that the flight
DID depart Runway 27.

A quick analysis of the 4-hour weather sequence shows the following:

  • visibility had reduced from 10-miles to 3-miles to 2-miles to 1.5-miles, then improved back to 10-miles after the eight-minute gap of missing weather data;
  • light snow had begun roughly 30-minutes before takeoff, but ended within two hours;
  • the ceiling had lowered from 3,300′ broken to 2,400′ broken to 1,500′ broken to 1,400′ overcast to 1,200′ overcast, then improved dramatically to 8,000′ overcast after the eight-minute gap of missing weather data;
  • temperatures were right near freezing, and humidity was high, increasing the risk of problems related to airframe icing or fuel-moisture.
  • The snow event was marked with significantly different winds. Specifically, both before and after the snow event, winds were gusty and out of the southwest; during the snow event, winds became more calm but out of the east, hence a likely tailwind at takeoff.

Here’s the actual weather sequence, showing the light snow event with a light gray background color. Note, too, for reasons unknown, no automated weather was available online for roughly an hour after the estimated time of the accident….

KTEX 161735Z AUTO 24009G18KT 10SM SCT022 BKN033 OVC045 02/M03 A3018 AO2
KTEX 161755Z AUTO 00000KT 3SM -SN BKN016 BKN024 OVC031 01/M02 A3018 AO2
KTEX 161815Z AUTO 07005KT 2SM -SN SCT008 BKN015 OVC020 01/M01 A3018 AO2
~1820Z: Accident
KTEX 161835Z AUTO 08004KT 1 1/2SM -SN OVC014 00/M01 A3017 AO2
KTEX 161855Z AUTO 08005KT 2SM -SN OVC012 01/M01 A3014 AO2

— MISSING WEATHER DATA: automated observations for times 1915Z, 1935Z, 1955Z, and 2015Z were not recorded. Possible power failure, or maybe the weather sensors were contaminated with snow?

KTEX 162035Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT070 OVC080 05/M03 A3005 AO2
KTEX 162055Z AUTO 20010G20KT 10SM SCT070 SCT080 BKN120 07/M07 A3004 AO2
KTEX 162115Z AUTO 22010G22KT 192V252 10SM BKN080 BKN100 BKN120 07/M08 A3004 AO2
KTEX 162135Z AUTO 23018G33KT 10SM OVC080 07/M08 A3004 AO2

And, here’s two other images: a satellite view, and a topo map. Both images are from MyTopo.com (use this link and search for ‘Telluride Airport’ to look more closely at these and other images online). Note that the airport is atop Deep Creek Mesa and is surrounded by canyons, roughly five miles west of the center of the town of Telluride; to the east is the heart of the Colorado Rockies, while to the west a high plateau slowly descends into Utah.