Multiple Witnesses Reported That The Mountain Range Was Obscured With Clouds
Location: New Harmony, UT Accident Number: WPR23FA083
Date & Time: January 4, 2023, Local Registration: N814WT
Aircraft: Piper Aircraft Inc PA-34-220T Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal
On January 4, 2023, about 1456 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-34-220T, N814WT was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near New Harmony, Utah. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.
The pilot had flown from his home base of Salt Lake City Airport (SLC) the morning of the accident to check on his secondary residence in the St. George area, and the accident flight was to be his return trip. A concerned family member reported the airplane overdue, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Alert Notice (ALNOT). A search for the airplane was initiated and the airplane wreckage was found the following day in mountainous terrain, about 3 miles north of New Harmony, Utah.
Preliminary automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data provided by the FAA indicated the departed from St. George Regional Airport (SGU) about 1441. The airplane departed on a left downwind leg after taking off from runway 19. It continued on a northeast heading for six minutes, reaching a GPS altitude of about 10,000 ft. The airplane then began to descend and after reaching 9,000 ft one minute later, it made a 90° left turn while continuing to descend to 8,625 ft. For the next four minutes, the airplane continued on a north track towards rising terrain while crossing over and to the west of Interstate 15.
After descending to 7,375 ft, the airplane turned 90° to the left and towards an 8,300 ft peak. The airplane then began a climbing left turn reaching 8,425 ft, one minute later. The next ADS-B target, recorded 14 seconds later, indicated that the airplane had descend to 6,900 ft and was now on a south track. For the last 15 seconds, the airplane continued in a left turn, climbing to 7,525 ft about 2,000 ft west of the accident site.
The airplane collided with terrain in a ravine at an elevation of 6,600 ft, about 200 ft below the surrounding ridgeline in an area interspersed with brush, juniper, and pine trees. The first identified point of impact was a 15-ft-long, 60-degree swath cut through a tree. From the tree, a debris field containing fiberglass and metal shards associated with a wing continued on a heading of 095°. A propellor hub and 3 detached blades were 20 ft from the initial point of impact, and the main wreckage came to rest inverted on a heading of 170° a further 55 ft downrange. The left wing remained partially attached to the fuselage and sustained leading edge crush damage. The inboard section of the right wing remained partially attached, and its outboard sections were comingled with the fuselage.
The fuselage sustained extensive crush damage from the nose to the vertical stabilizer. The vertical stabilizer remained attached to the tail cone and was crushed and folded under the stabilator. Within the fuselage, remnants of fractured and separated seats, flight instruments and cabin contents were identified.
Multiple witnesses reported that the mountain range was obscured with clouds. One witness, who was a pilot, stated that she was in her house about 1 mile from the accident site when she heard the sound of a low flying airplane. She checked its location using an online aircraft flight tracking website. The website indicated that the accident airplane was flying directly overhead at 7,300 ft mean sea level (MSL), an altitude she thought was an unusually low for the area and terrain. She continued to listen as the airplane flew away, and the sound of the engines faded into the distance. She reported cloud bases in the area of about of between 200 and 300 ft, with the surrounding terrain completely obscured.
Another witness stated that he planned to depart SGU on a VFR flight to the SLC area about 1400. Prior to departure, he checked enroute weather and the reporting stations indicated visual meteorological conditions along the route of flight. However, while on the airport ramp he could see clouds obscuring the mountains to the north along his intended route of flight. He decided instead to drive, and as he approached the pass at New Harmony the area was completely enveloped in clouds. Once he had passed through to Cedar City, the weather had cleared up.
The airplane was manufactured in 2014. Delivery records indicated that it was equipped with a Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, and a G1000 avionics package that included the Garmin “Synthetic Vision” situational display function. The airplane also had deice capabilities and a satellite radio/weather receiver.
There was no record of the pilot filing an instrument flight rules flight plan or requesting flight following.