On the evening of February 4th, three separate small aircraft crashed and were destroyed in Texas. Two accidents killed the sole pilots; the third accident had four adults aboard and nobody died.
At all three locations (Lubbock, Argyle, and Andrews) a frontal passage occurred hours before the accident. The frontal passage brought strong, gusting winds, overcast ceilings below 1,000-feet, falling temperatures, and combinations of light rain, freezing drizzle, and mist.
The cold front passed through at around the following times:
- Hobbs, NM: 12noon
- Lubbock, TX: 3PM
- Andrews, TX: 5PM
- Denton, TX: 8PM
The first accident was in Lubbock [KLBB] and involved a doctor flying a Piper Malibu (high-performance single-prop). He was flying home from near Hobbs, NM. The flight impacted an 814-foot tall TV station antenna, and crashed more than six miles from the runway. The KLBB METAR 12-minutes after the accident, at 7:47PM, included: temp/dew 28/25, wind northeast 21kts gusting to 31kts, visibility 7 miles, ceiling 700′ overcast. Conditions were prime for icing, and light freezing drizzle did begin on the surface at KLBB at around the time of the crash. It seems inconceivable that the pilot would attempt to ‘scud-run’ so low, nor that ATC would allow it. The ATC communications should be revealing.
The second accident was also fatal, and involved a businessman flying alone, home to the Denton airport [KDTO] in a 10-passenger Cessna Conquest (twin-prop). His flight profile included an intercept of the KDTO RNAV Runway 36 final approach at WOBOS, just west of Grapevine Lake. The KDTO METAR seven minutes prior to the accident, at 9:03PM, included: temp/dew 38/37, wind north 20kts gusting to 29kts, visibility 2 miles light rain and mist, ceiling 900-feet overcast. The crash debris distribution, with the wings and empennage separated but whole, suggests an aircraft that hit the ground hard but with a relatively normal ‘flat and straight ahead’ attitude. As with the Lubbock crash, ATC should have considerable information to explain the circumstances of this crash, so long as FAA does not conceal the information within the ATSAP safety data black hole.
The third accident was miraculously nonfatal for the four adults aboard. Weather at the arrival airport near Andrews [E11] was already down to a 900-foot overcast ceiling, even before the single-prop Beechcraft Bonanza departed. Weather deteriorated further during the 80-minute flight, and the E11 METAR ten minutes prior to the accident, at 12:35AM, included: temp/dew 29/29, wind north-northeast 13kts gusting to 18kts, visibility 5 miles mist, ceiling 700-feet overcast. These flight conditions, to an uncontrolled airport in flat treeless countryside, have been known to result in scud-running. In this case, the pilot reportedly radioed ATC with an icing problem.
Here is a satellite view of the terrain near the Andrews County Airport. In a controlled arrival, given the winds, you would line up for Runway 34 or Runway 02. If iced up, you might not make it that far. Imagine dropping through the clouds at 700-feet above the surface, and having maybe one minute to try and control the aircraft and pick a spot to cause the least damage. A lot easier here than in other parts of Texas.