PC-12 Medevac Broke Up, Five Killed (Updated)


The NTSB says a Pilatus PC-12 medevac aircraft broke up in flight shortly after taking off from Reno Airport on Friday night. All five people aboard the Care Flight aircraft were killed when the aircraft suddenly disappeared from radar as it was climbing on departure from Reno International Airport to Salt Lake City Friday evening. The wreckage was found near Dayton, Nevada, about 24 miles southeast of Reno. The missing parts were about 1200 yards from the main wreckage.

Flight trackers showed the plane at about 19,000 feet before contact was lost. According to an ATC recording, a controller had just warned the pilot of generalized light to moderate turbulence in the area and the pilot said he was climbing to 25,000 feet. A winter storm was hitting the area at the time.

The NTSB sent a full investigation team of 11 members to the site and held a news conference on Sunday to discuss their initial findings. The investigators said part of the right wing, the horizontal stabilizer and elevator all separated from the plane. Although ATC had notified the pilot about the possibility of turbulence, the NTSB said there had been no reports that would have warranted cancelling the flight. “It was pretty much a normal evening,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg told the news conference. The pilot, a nurse, a paramedic, the patient and a relative of the patient were on the aircraft.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. While it would’ve added another fatality to this accident, I feel like these types of flights should require a copilot.

  2. Single pilot IFR nighttime in an ice storm. No way to know just yet with the circumstances of the crash work, but I can picture many scenarios were a copilot would have saved the mission.

  3. These type of flights do require a SIC unless the company has the ops spec which allows for an operating autopilot to substitute for the second pilot. As another poster pointed out inflight breakup due to turbulence is rare, especially since it is known that the flight did reach FL190. Also there is no indication in this article of wreckage scattered over a wide area which would happen if plane broke up in flight. With a departure in a snowstorm, icing overwhelming the airplane or not turning on the ice protection could have happened. I wonder if anyone with PC12 experience could comment on the ability of the plane to handle ice. RIP.

    • Just found out from another site the NTSB has found that there was an inflight breakup of this plane. Part of a wing and the elevator was found about 3/4 mile from the fuselage. As far as why, hopefully the NTSB can figure that out. RIP.

  4. There’s an article on February 23rd titled: “Instructor Dies During Flight, Pilot Thought He Was Joking”. Incapacitated pilot is so rare how could it possibly happen twice in a week?

  5. copilot would have just added to body count. Crew has got to be able to know when to leave it in the hanger. Just takes experience to spot the “pilot killer” storms…….this had all the earmarks of one……..

  6. At 19k msl (10-15k agl) cruise climb with missing components less than a mile from main wreckage, inclined to believe inflight break up was symptom of LOC, not cause. Icing/turb leading to autopilot issues and/or distraction of single pilot could be factors, hopefully enough data survives to develop answers.

  7. I saw the flight track all was good then it started to spiral down before contact was lost. With the autopilot this plane has you have to wonder how this could happen? Maybe severe icing the deicing equipment couldn’t handle? I am sure the missing pieces would show that? Pilot incapacitation would be my guess but waiting on the experts to come to a conclusion.

  8. “It was pretty much a normal evening,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg told the news conference.

    An improper and significantly incorrect opinion by a Board member who should know better. The general weather system was one of the worst in years.

  9. Russ, you do a great job, but this report is very misleading. Please watch the various videos available online with the flight radar profile of this flight. This airplane did not break up at FL19 in normal flight. This pilot lost control in IMC—perhaps due to spatial disorientation and task saturation—most likely after the autopilot was disengaged or disengaged itself in challenging conditions. Parts falling off the plane virtually certainly did not cause this crash. The parts were found quite close to the main wreckage. So they most likely fell off during the last part of the incredibly fast plummet to earth due to excessive speed, excessive g load, or both, long after positive control of the aircraft was lost by the pilot. The general public will believe based on your report and others that this PC12 was just flying along, started shedding parts due to turbulence or something, and then crashed as a result. Not true! And this feeds unwarranted fears among the general public of commercial planes breaking up in normal flight, which is vanishingly rare. Please edit your report to reflect what the radar data and location of the separated parts strongly indicates about when they left the aircraft. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

    • In a word, no. You’re asking me to analyze and reach conclusions on the cause of the accident and I’m neither qualified nor do the resources you cite contain all the information needed to reach those conclusions. We present hard facts as they become available and never speculate on cause. Anything else is irresponsible guesswork.

  10. “The NTSB says a Pilatus PC-12 medevac aircraft broke up in flight shortly after taking off from Reno Airport on Friday night.

    Both the headline and this opening paragraph are extremely misleading, for starters. The aircraft did not just ‘break up’ spontaneously shortly after takeoff. Imho it’s irresponsible to report news like this.

    • I guess it depends on your definition of “shortly.” And nowhere does it say the plane broke up “spontaneously.” The story accurately reports the facts of this accident although more information is available now than at time of writing. Instead of “shortly” I could have given a more precise timeline.

      • The average non-pilot–and non-pilot reporters who will parrot you–may very well believe you are saying that the ‘breakup shortly after t/o’ caused the crash, which is implied though not stated. (I have seen it out there already.) I guess we will just agree to disagree, but I think this report does a disservice to aviation in the public consciousness.

  11. I wonder how well instrument qualified pilots can actually fly with basic instruments? I have personally spent the most rewarding moments in the air in a glider in the clouds with only a clock, yaw and tilt, variometer and altimeter as help. I got the speed information from the sounds of the air flow, because the pitot tube is the first to freeze. I have had some flights in autumn when the last ice comes off the wings in the finale.

    • Turns out a glider can be operated in IMC:

      “IFR flight by a glider will normally require

      the designation of an area of operation rather than a route since

      the mode of flight will normally include low speed, circling flight,

      drifting cross-country at about the same speed as the wind aloft and

      an inability to maintain a preselected altitude or ground-directed

      heading. The dimensions of the area and altitudes shall be determined

      by mutual agreement between the operator and facility. The capability

      of the pilot to communicate with the Center should be considered in

      approving the flight.”

      I see no exception to the sue of a VFR only glider in IMC however.

      It also appears that they are allowed in airspace Alpha with some equipment requirements although I don’t think the pilot needs an instrument rating.

      Odd and interesting.

      As an instrument pilot I’d oppose allowing a non rated aircraft, powered or not, with a VFR pilot in IMC with me.

  12. Broke up climbing to altitude OR broke up in an uncontrolled dive (overspeed)???

    Not enough coherent information here to understand what really happened.

  13. Another site I saw indicated the pilot was very experienced. Who knows but it could have been overloaded with ice with subsequent loss of control or the pilot suffered incapacitation. The breakup apparently happened during high speed/high g descent. Tail plane and right wing were found apart from the main wreckage.

  14. Reminds me of a PC-12 break-up over Morristown, NJ some years ago. NW winds from the Great Lakes near freezing at the surface, and icing reports and pilots begging for altitude changes.
    Reading between the lines it was a personal flight with family and a friend from MMU to spend Christmas in Georgia which I believe is about the range of this plane.
    Assuming he’s heavy and digging hard for altitude to make Georgia without an extra stop. During climb and at about 17k ft accident pilot told ATC the conditions were not a problem when the aircraft suddenly started down never regaining control. Plopped down on I-287 with some important parts strewn in the trees. It too happened SHORTLY after takeoff, during climb out.

    • You might be referring to the TBM-700 (N731CA) crash in 2011, also a single engine turboprop, but not a PC-12. That crash was clearly the result of ice. This one is not clearly the result of ice, if you look at the radar data. It looks a lot more like loss of control due to spatial disorientation after the autopilot was turned off or switched itself off. Icing might have played a role in the autopilot disengaging. Interesting there was no distress call. The NTSB will hopefully work it out over the next 2-3 years. One thing is pretty clear, though: the parts that separated from this aircraft are not likely to have caused this crash.

  15. What a sad commentary. The facts, -–––––– It was a PC12, it reached FL190 and at this stage, anything else is sheer speculation which is neither helpful nor an expansion of our knowledge.

    I wonder why these folk thought it necessary to write their speculative viewpoint in the first place?

    Brian Souter

  16. Situation could have encompassed severe icing; followed by autopilot chasing the parameters resulting in an overstressing of the airframe components.

  17. I was surprised to read this was single pilot night IFR in ice… and a medevac flight. Why? Even if it was one of the time builder instructors in the copilot seat… it sounds better to me.

  18. I recall years back a number of episodes in which Piper Malibu aircraft experienced in-flight break ups. I think to the point that the flight operations of the aircraft were severely restricted until the problem was worked out. I also recall that after investigation the likely problem was use of the autopilot in vertical speed climb mode (rather than airspeed mode) without proper monitoring. The airplane would pitch back trying to keep the VS until stall, then an abrupt maneuver to recover would break the airframe. Enhanced pilot training was the final fix, no changes to the aircraft. Is my memory correct, and could that be a factor here? I can’t take the discussion any further because I’m not familiar with PC-12 or it’s autopilot.
    It’s a tragedy; we have to draw some knowledge from the event if we can.

  19. The known circumstances of this incident suggest spatial disorientation leading to loss of control, resulting in overstressing the aircraft and structural failure prior to impact–an all too common fact pattern.

  20. The pilot should have made a NO GO decision from his weather report. Two pilots would not have made a difference. Take a look at the crash from American Airlines from Dallas to Little Rock the weather they were dealing with. 9 people died in that crash.You just never know when it’s gonna bite you in the tail.Lets take a look at the pilots proficiency. Human factors take a real good look at that. I see the pilot got in way over his head should’ve waited on better weather conditions. As for the patients if needed to go at that time better figure out another way to do it. This is a problem I’ve seen in corporate. I got to get there now we don’t have no other way and it forces and pushes the pilot to go.What I have Witness
    In my 37 years in aviation.
    If you really wanna learn more why plane crashes check this site out.
    THE LAST WORDS/CVR. PILOT asked me what have I learned in Aviation. I tell them I learn from other pilots mistakes. I pray before every flight and after every flight.