Controller Queried The Pilot If They Were Going To Fly Down The Valley

Location: Aspen, CO Accident Number: CEN21FA305
Date & Time: July 3, 2021, 18:38 Local Registration: N36JJ
Aircraft: Hawker Beechcraft Corp G36 Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On July 3, 2021, about 1838 mountain daylight time, a Beech G36 airplane, N36JJ, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Aspen, Colorado. The two pilots were fatally injured. The airplane was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight.

According to preliminary information, the airplane landed at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) about 1353 to stop for fuel and lunch. The pilots then requested an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan to the Des Moines International Airport (DSM), Des Moines, Iowa. The ground controller issued a clearance that included the LINDZ Nine Departure Procedure, to climb and maintain 16,000 ft, and to expect 17,000 ft, 10 minutes after departure. The pilot responded that they could not accept 16,000 ft, which was required for the departure procedure, and would instead depart using visual flight rules. The controller queried the pilot if they were going to fly down the valley before proceeding eastbound or northeast through the ridge. The pilot responded that they would make that decision after they took off, “once we see what’s going on.” The pilot advised that they would make a right turn takeoff and  requested to climb over the airport.

After departure, the flight was cleared to climb over the Aspen airport and the pilot informed the controller that they would depart to the south-southeast. The tower controller acknowledged and advised that they would let them know when the flight was high enough to proceed. When passing through 10,100 ft, the pilots informed the tower that they would depart to the east, stating “we’re above it.” When the flight was 5 miles east of the airport, the tower  controller informed them that they were leaving ASE airspace and approved a frequency change. The pilot asked the tower controller to recommend a frequency, however the tower controller did not respond. The flight continued to the east and southeast.

Radar data showed the airplane as it approached a semi-circular mountain ridgeline with tops over 13,000 ft. Data indicated that the airplane was at 11,500 ft as it approached the ridgeline and then the airplane subsequently dropped off radar.

The airplane was located near a meadow in a wooded area at an elevation of about 11,000 ft. A post impact fire ensued.

A detailed examination will be conducted once the airplane is recovered from the accident site.