NTSB Identification: LAX02FA255
On August 19, 2002, at 1035 pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-28R-200 single-engine airplane, N7794C, was destroyed upon collision with trees and mountainous terrain while maneuvering near South Lake Tahoe, California. The instrument rated private pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. The airplane, serial number 28R-7635117, was owned and operated by the pilot under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the 112 nautical-mile cross country flight for which no flight plan was filed. The personal flight originated from the Lake Tahoe Airport (TVL), near South Lake Tahoe, California, with the Buchanan Field Airport (CCR), near Concord, California, as its intended destination.
The 1,100-hour pilot had owned and operated the airplane since December 16, 1987. He was reported to be familiar with the terrain and the route of flight, having visited his family's cabin several times during the past few years. According to ATC data, the pilot contacted ground control at 1025:55 local and requested taxi instructions for departure. The pilot was cleared to taxi to runway 18 and was provided the wind from 180 degrees at 13 knots, altimeter setting of 30.06 inches, and told to "check density altitude."
At 1030:33 local, the pilot switched to the tower frequency and requested a straight-out departure over Echo Summit. A family member that accompanied the pilot to the airport reported that the airplane broke ground in about a third of the runway and initiated a slow climb in a southerly direction. No further calls were received from the airplane.
At a field elevation of 6,264 feet msl, the Lake Tahoe Airport is surrounded on the south, east, and west sides by rapidly rising terrain of the Sierra Nevada. The preferred arrival runway is runway 18, with runway 36 being the preferred departure runway. A right downwind departure is recommended for departures from runway 18. Another option used by local pilots departing from runway 18 is to gain altitude while circling the Lake Tahoe Golf Course, located just south of the airport perimeter.
A missing aircraft alert was issued after concerned family members contacted the FAA to report that the airplane failed to arrived at its intended destination. The wreckage of the airplane was located after a post-impact fire sparked a forest fire that ended up consuming approximately 345 acres within the El Dorado National Forest. The fire, locally known as "Showers Fire," continued to burn for 4-5 days following the accident.
The airplane, configured with the gear retracted and the flaps in the up position, impacted matured pine trees and terrain in a slight left wing low attitude on a measured heading of 011 degrees. The accident site, at an elevation of 7,432 feet msl, was approximately 7.2 nautical miles south (173 degrees) from the Lake Tahoe Airport. The airplane came to rest in the inverted position on a measured heading of 116 degrees. A post-impact fire consumed most of the wreckage.
The airplane was found to be within the prescribed weight and balance limits prior to its departure from the Lake Tahoe Airport. The density altitude was calculated at 8,551 feet at the time of departure.