NTSB releases report on fatal 2019 crash

Two were killed at McKenzie Airstrip


MCKENZIE BRIDGE: In a report released this week, the National Traffic Safety Board cited a lack of pilot experience and weather conditions for contributing to an August 27, 2019, fatal airplane accident in McKenzie Bridge. Killed in the wreck was pilot, Steven Pasiack, 23, and his passenger Jake Kelley, 22. Both were from Lebanon, Oregon.

Investigators determined that after flying over mountainous terrain, the pilot attempted an approach into the McKenzie Bridge Airstrip - a 2,600-foot long grass runway bordered by tall trees.

Witnesses near the center of the runway described the airplane flying east over the runway about five feet above ground level when it came into their view. One witness stated that he could not hear any noise as the airplane came into view but that its wings rocked; he said he heard the engine power increasing and that the airplane may have started to climb when it reached his center of vision. A second witness stated that she heard the engine running and that the airplane began a slow climb and then disappeared from her view behind trees at a slightly higher altitude. About 15 minutes later, they saw smoke coming from the crash site.

Pasiack had about 69 hours of flight experience, most in a Cessna 172 he was flying that day, or similar aircraft. According to the airplane’s owner, the pilot rented the airplane from 1730 to 1930 on the day of the accident. The owner said he warned Pasiack of the high-density altitude before departure that day and the potential for reduced airplane performance due to the high ambient temperatures.

NTSB investigators reviewed Pasiack’s logbook and said it showed that “He had not performed landings or takeoffs at mountain airports. Thus, he had insufficient experience to attempt a landing or takeoff at a short mountain airport runway bordered by trees on a day with a density altitude over 2,800 ft higher than the airport elevation.”

The report continued, saying it was, “Unknown if the pilot had intended to perform a full-stop landing, a touch-and-go maneuver, or overfly the runway at a low altitude. He had selected a runway that was not recommended for takeoffs but was recommended for landing. The pilot likely misjudged the runway length needed and the airplane’s performance when he chose to begin a climb about midfield in high-density altitude conditions with rising terrain and 120-foot obstacles at the end of the runway.

Investigators also retrieved a 16-second video file that was extracted from the pilot’s mobile phone. The segment captured the plane’s flight about ten minutes before the accident and showed the airplane flying through mountainous terrain at a low altitude. Toward the end of the video, the airplane made a slight right turn and then immediately began a left turn, at which point the video ended. “The engine sounded smooth and continuous,” the reports says.

A third witness at the airstrip was a helicopter mechanic, who reported that the airplane appeared to be slow and was “way too low.” He said the engine sounded continuous at a low power setting. The mechanic said the Cessna banked hard from side to side and then disappeared from his view behind trees. It was about 15 minutes later, that two of the witnesses saw smoke coming from the accident site.

The McKenzie Bridge Airstrip’s runway slopes 134 feet uphill with 120-ft-tall trees beyond the east end. Federal Aviation Administration charts for the site indicate, “land east-takeoff west.” Airport signage along the runway also says, “Departures From This End [the west end] not recommended.”

The airplane came to rest inverted in a wooded area about 615 ft east of the east end of the runway. At the final site was a tree about 120 ft tall with a severed top. Investigators found a debris path marked by several broken tree branches at the top of a tree about 120 ft tall, about 75 ft southeast of the place the plane came to rest. The main wreckage was located about 150 ft away from the initial impact area and was mostly consumed by the postcrash fire that comprised all major structural components of the airplane.

In their conclusion, the National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of the accident to be: “The pilot’s delayed climb and misjudgment of the airplane’s performance and the runway distance needed to clear obstacles at the end of the runway, which resulted in a collision with trees and subsequent impact with terrain. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s insufficient experience landing and taking off at mountain airports.”


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