The FAA appears to be challenging an NTSB report that points the finger at air traffic control for a fatal accident in California two weeks ago. The NTSB findings on the crash of a Piper PA-44-180 near Julian, Calif., read: "The airplane descended to 5,200 feet in response to an ATC instruction. The airplane impacted trees on a 5,500-foot ridgeline ..." Two private pilots died. FAA spokesman Greg Martin declined detailed comment on the report but noted the investigation is still underway and the FAA is helping. "I wouldn't reach any conclusions until the report is complete," he said. That could take about two months. The plane left Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix about 6:30 p.m. on what the NTSB calls "a routine IFR flight" to McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. The plane was cruising at 8,000 feet as it approached the Julian VOR, well above the terrain, when, allegedly at ATC's request, it descended to the impact altitude. As always, the NTSB's preliminary reports come with the qualifying statement that the report is "subject to change and may contain errors." And our comments that lives in this case could have been spared with the help of any modern GPS with topographic moving-map capability (like that provided by MountainScope software, or the Garmin 296) ... or old fashioned chart-reading plus situational awareness ... or MVAs published on instrument charts ... come with 20/20 hindsight. Stay tuned.