The Airplane Was Wobbling, And It Then Began To Bank Left…

Location: Randsburg, CA Accident Number: WPR22FA033
Date & Time: November 12, 2021, 14:14 Local Registration: N984LD
Aircraft: Zenith STOL CH701 Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal

On November 12, 2021, about 1414 Pacific standard time, an experimental amateur-built Zenith CH-701, N984LD, was destroyed when it was involved in accident while landing at a back-country airstrip, near Randsburg, California. The pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The airport was located within a 1,500 ft-wide valley, at an elevation of about 2,450 ft. The runway was oriented on a southwest heading, with rising terrain to the north, and a parallel ridgeline to the south which fell away to an open desert playa.

A witness, who was located on a camping spot about ½ to the west, and overlooking the runway, stated that he had camped at that location many times before, and was familiar with aircraft landing on the airstrip. About 1410, he heard the typical sound of an airplane in the traffic pattern and saw a high-wing airplane flying northeast along the ridgeline at an altitude of about 300 ft over the runway. He stated that it was flying in a manner that seemed appropriate for an airplane approaching the southwest runway for landing.

A short time later he heard an engine revving up, and when he looked up, the airplane was at the north end of the runway, flying northwest. The airplane was wobbling, and it then began to bank left. It’s bank angle reached about 60° such that he could see the full wing profile; the nose then dropped, and the airplane descended rapidly to the ground. Another witness, who was located within the runway valley, stated that his attention was drawn to an airplane flying northeast over the ridgeline. It was flying about 50 ft above the ridge and appeared to be bouncing, in a manner that he attributed to it encountering turbulence. He was concerned and continued to watch the airplane as it began a left turn consistent with it initiating an approach to land on the southwest runway. The airplanes bank angle then rapidly increased, reaching what he estimated to be about 90° such that the airplane was on a knifeedge. The nose of the airplane then suddenly dropped, and the airplane rapidly descended, and collided with the ground, erupting in flames.

Both witnesses reported that they did not see the airplane emitting smoke of vapors at any time prior to the impact.
The airplane came to rest inverted on a heading of about 035°, in the foothills of the rising terrain to the north, about 750 ft short of the southwest runway landing threshold, and 275 ft to the right of the centerline.

The entire fuselage through to the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer, along with most of the right wing, and the inboard section of the left wing, sustained extensive thermal damage, melting most of the aluminum structure. The steel airframe components sustained varying degrees of crush and bending damage. The horizontal and rudder/vertical stabilizer remained intact, and came to rest in line with the burnt fuselage remnants.