For starters, there is an excellent web page devoted to this accident and the ensuing search for the aircraft: https://sites.google.com/site/searchfordalesplane/home
There is also a Facebook group dedicated to the search for this aircraft, here:https://www.facebook.com/groups/TomnodSmithPlaneSearch/
The NTSB preliminary report is attached.
I was banned from this group for posting the following...I hope that my thoughts might receive a more understanding reception from a group of pilots that may share a similar interest in understanding how an accident like this could have happened...and how we may avoid it ourselves. Perhaps the FB group was not an appropriate place for the post, or maybe they do not want to confront a potential ugly truth - tragic, avoidable errors may have been made here that cost the lives of 5 people and put the lives of other friends, relatives and professionals in the SAR effort at risk.
Below is the body of my post. I hope this will spark an informed conversation about the issues this sort of flight and accident raise...
For about a week now I have been following the Tomnod: Smith Plane Search FB group and the efforts of Dale’s friends and family to find and recover his airplane.
As a pilot that obsesses over the causes of this sort of accident however, there is another, less pleasant angle on the story that I am interested in, and that is a thoughtful and careful review of the meteorological conditions surrounding the flight, the weather information that would have been available to the pilot in advance of and during the flight, and the aeronautical decision-making that occurred during the flight. I, as do many of my pilot friends, fly with my family in the northeast and mid-atlantic area, where similar conditions often prevail.
Much of the weather forecast information that Dale would likely have consulted before his flight is not archived and is no longer available, but there is still some forecast weather from the National Weather Service that gives us an idea of what the forecasts available to Dale would have looked like.
The morning issuance of the NOAA Weather Forecast, issued at 01:43 am MST on Dec. 1st showed an area of possible snow coving the entire route of flight. The probability of at least 4” of snow accumulation was forecast to be at least 70% during the 24 hour period from 6am Dec. 1 through 6am Dec. 2.
Current Weather before the flight:
The pattern of existing weather conditions that prevailed along Dale’s route of flight throughout the morning of Dec. 1 leading up to Dale’s flight would have been available for his review during his preflight planning.
The weather depiction charts for December 1 show an area of marginal VFR conditions spreading and pushing down from the Northwest into the area of Dale’s flight throughout the day. Weather reports from the Salmon airport and the McCall airport were consistent with this forecast, showing fairly stable marginal VFR conditions throughout the day, with low temperatures, small temperature/dew point spreads, low ceilings, and rain. The barometer at both airports had been gradually falling throughout the day.
The METARS and weather depiction charts that were available to him then clearly show a combination of marginal VFR meteorological conditions, low temperatures, high relative humidity, small temperature/dewpoint spreads, broken and overcast cloud ceilings, and rain along his route of flight that would have indicated a very strong likelihood for the formation of airframe icing.
The bonanza B36 TC is not certificated for known ice, and has no anti-or deicing equipment except for propeller deice, visible in the photograph of Dale’s plane (https://sites.google.com/site/searchfordalesplane/known-information#TOC-Type-of-Plane
). With regard to known icing conditions, and flight into known icing conditions by general aviation aircraft not certificated for known nice, the FAA has offered some very clear guidance.
From a letter written by the FAA, here are several excerpts addressing Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI) by general aviation aircraft not certified for FIKI:
“‘known icing conditions’ involve instead circumstances where a reasonable pilot would expect a substantial likelihood of ice formation on the aircraft based upon all information available to the pilot.
... The NTSB has held on a number of occasions that known icing conditions exist when a pilot knows or reasonably should know about weather reports and which icing conditions are reported or forecast.
If the composite information indicates to a reasonable and prudent pilot that he or she will be operating the aircraft under conditions that will cause ice to adhere to the aircraft along the proposed route and altitude of flight, then known icing conditions likely exist.
Flight in known icing conditions by aircraft not approved and equipped for such operations presents a significant safety hazard because by the time the ice adheres to the aircraft, it may be too late for the pilot to take actions to assure the further safety of the flight.
Pilots should not expose themselves or others to the risk associated with flying into conditions in which ice is likely to adhere to an aircraft. If ice is detected were observed along the route of flight, the pilot should have a viable exit strategy and immediately implement that strategy so that the flight may safely continue to its intended destination or terminate at an alternate landing facility.”
Based on the data provided on the Weather Page of the “SearchforDalesPlane” google site (https://sites.google.com/site/searchfordalesplane/home
), as well as archived surface weather depiction charts and NOAA weather forecasts, it appears that Dale Smith flew his bonanza into an area of instrument meteorological conditions that were highly conducive to the formation of structural airframe icing.
While it is not fair to say that Dale could have known for sure that he was going to encounter known icing conditions along his route of flight, it is safe to say that a reasonable and prudent pilot should have expected the possibility of encountering known icing conditions along the route of flight and had a pre-planned alternate airport to divert to and a solid backup “Plan B” in the event of encountering known icing conditions.
Decision to divert:
Dale asks Salt Lake ATC to divert to Lemhi County (Salmon) airport (KSMN). At the moment he asks to divert, Dale has only a couple of choices. Salmon, approximately 70 nautical miles, or 30 minutes, further ahead, requiring possible continued flight in icing conditions, or McCall, only 26 nautical miles and 10 minutes behind him, presumably away from the icing conditions he has encountered. Salmon has two GPS instrument approaches, both with relatively high circling only minimums. McCall has three GPS approaches, one of which has a relatively low precision-like LPV minimum. The likely advantage at Salmon is that it was reporting higher ceilings and slightly better visibility - an instrument approach would not have been necessary to land there. Neither choice would have looked compelling.
Lastly, it is worth noting that Dale Smith never declared an emergency. Dale tells ATC that he is “is picking up too much ice” and asks for a lower altitude. He continues flying for four minutes, evidently unable to maintain altitude. ATC issues an altitude alert, but Dale continues to descend. Four and a half minutes after telling ATC he is picking up too much ice, Dale tells ATC he is having engine problems. He then asks for immediate diversion to 3U2 (Johnson Creek). No emergency is ever declared.
There remain a lot of unknowns here. Did he obtain a thorough weather briefing? When did he first start accumulating ice? When did he realize he was in trouble? Why did the engine quit - was the induction system clogged with ice? A lot of this will, hopefully, come out in the NTSB report. Until then, I can only try to learn what I can from what information is available.