The Controller Lost Sight Of The Airplane And Lost All Communication With The Pilot

Location: Billings, MT Accident Number: WPR21LA032
Date & Time: October 30, 2020, 19:05 Local Registration: N124TW
Aircraft: Cessna 172 Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under:

On October 30, 2020 about 1905 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 172M airplane, N124TW, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Billings, Montana. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 cross-country flight.

According to air traffic control, the pilot reported wind shear and turbulence and had difficulties in continuing its flight at night with strong headwinds. The pilot also reported that he was not able to climb to an altitude to safely navigate mountainous terrain and needed to divert to Billings Logan International Airport (BIL), Billings, Montana. The pilot turned right and continued his flight to BIL where he was instructed to land on runway 28R. As the pilot was approaching BIL he was asked by the tower controller if he would like runway 25, because it was more aligned with the winds, to which the pilot agreed. As the pilot was approaching the airport, he advised, “I’m having trouble making out the airport from the rest of the flashing lights.” The controller gave the pilot a position report and the pilot reported that he thought he had the airport in sight.

The controller advised the pilot to maneuver as necessary and to maintain an altitude of 4,500 ft mean sea level (msl) or higher. After some maneuvering the pilot reported that he did not have the runway in sight. The controller then requested that he pass over the top of the airport and the pilot replied he had the runway in sight. The pilot reported that he needed to maneuver to lineup with the runway to which the controller issued wind and cleared the pilot to land on runway 25 with additional instructions not to descend below 4,000 ft msl. As the pilot was lined up for runway 25, the controller advised the pilot the runway elevation was at 3,600 ft msl and that he could descend at any time. The controller also advised the pilot that the runway had Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) lights, to which the pilot reported that he had them in sight. The controller lost sight of the airplane and lost all communication with the pilot.

The airplane impacted trees and level terrain east of the airport, about 3/4-mile on runway 25 centerline. All major structural components of the airplane were located within the debris field. The flight originated in Dallas, Texas with multiple intermediate stops along the way. The accident leg initiated form Sheridan, WY, and the pilot’s planned destination was Three Forks, MT. The wreckage was recovered to a secure facility for further examination.