NTSB Issues Preliminary Report On Fatal Nevada Midair


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published its preliminary report on the fatal midair collision of a Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage and a Cessna 172N Skyhawk at Nevada’s North Las Vegas airport (VGT) last month. The report confirmed that the Piper, identified as N97CX, had been instructed by air traffic control to fly left traffic for Runway 30L while the Cessna, N160RA, had been instructed to fly right traffic for Runway 30R. The board found that the aircraft collided approximately 0.25 nautical miles from the approach end of runway 30R. ADS-B data published in the report, shown in the image above, suggests that both aircraft were lined up for 30R.

N160RA was operating as a local VFR training flight and N97CX as an IFR flight inbound from Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Airport (COE). The report noted that N97CX had been instructed to overfly VGT at midfield for left traffic to runway 30L and cleared for a visual approach. N97CX was transferred from Nellis Radar Approach Control to VGT air traffic control about six minutes before the crash. N160RA requested a short approach to 30R, which was subsequently approved by ATC, around four minutes before the accident. Prior to the crash, N160RA was cleared for the option on 30R and N97CX was cleared to land on 30L. Both clearances were verbally acknowledged.

Each aircraft had two people onboard, all of whom were killed in the collision. As previously reported by AVweb, the accident took place at about 12:04 p.m. local time on July 17. The NTSB’s investigation is ongoing.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Sad sequence of events. Two planes doing close-in approaches simultaneously doesn’t allow ATC time to react to an incorrect runway alignment. It probably happens dozens of times per day without incident leaving ATC inattentive. At the same time, left traffic takes left runway mostly. Did the pilot simply misread the runway? Who knows?

    • My guess is that this is yet another parallel runway mixup, not helped by the left runway’s threshold being set back from the right runway’s threshold.

  2. Parallel runways (and taxiways) again, sad.

    Runways visually different if one knew the airport (threshold location and length), left runway is closest to terminal.

    Apparently controller was getting concerned about where the Piper was headed, repeated instructions a few times, pilot confirmed but continued heading for other runway. Controller hadn’t got as far as warning the Cessna it seems.

    Day VMC.

    If I read correctly, Piper hit Cessna from below – so visible direction given wing location on fuselages but we don’t know last minute maneuvers, two occupants in each aircraft, sounds like both were flying visually at the end.

  3. The Malibu confirmed it was cleared to land on 30L on several occasions, including in their last transmission, so it’s doubtful the runway was “misread”. HOwever, arriving from overhead and passing over both runways, it may be that the Malibu first observed 30R as being in the “left” position…and once sighted visually…continued for that runway. (Similar events occur when pilots obtain visual-clearances to airports and runways… then having caught sight of the landing area…disregard all contradictory visuals…and land at the wrong Airport and/or wrong runway….numerous examples in the airline industry exist. Delta landed visually at the incorrect Florida airport so many times, pilots at competing airlines jokingly commented that DELTA stands for “Don’t Ever Land There Again!”
    On an IFR flight plan…even when sighting and being cleared for a “visual” approach…it’s a good idea to remain vigilant with regard to navigating in relationship to the approach to the runway. There is an excellent corollary in the AA presentation by Capt. Vanderberg “Children of the Magenta” in which an American flight side-stepped on a visual approach and landed on a runway without talking to the tower which actually controlled that runway.
    Moral: Visual approaches are dangerous far beyond the “simplicity” they infer.
    I feel such sorrow for the 172 occupants who died having committed no error.

    • Interesting points but atmosphere was IMC and left runway is closest to quite visible terminal.

      The Piper’s crew may not have been familiar with the airport, it left Idaho, but still…. are you suggesting the different threshold was not obvious? ((Depends if had runway plate clipped to control wheel, I suppose, but wouldn’t terminal and existence of two runways be obvious in CCW turn even for low wing airplane?)

      Wouldn’t circling CCW suggest Left runway to pilot?

      A corollary to ‘situational awareness?

  4. The runways are clearly marked 30L and 30R. The Piper was not paying attention or it was a case where the Piper aircraft drifted into the adjacent approach path by miscalculating the turn to final.

    • 30L’s threshold is also staggered inward of 30R’s threshold. I can easily see a pilot in the left downwind for 30L visually identifying the threshold of 30R and mistaking it for 30L.

    • Graphic of ADS-B data seems to show Piper’s flight path headed to Right runway, albeit tightening arc near end, noting very little crosswind (4 knots at 320).

      Note NTSB says for both aircraft ‘The VGT controller’ singular.

      I presume NTSB will do flight tests of visibility from Piper if can’t do them on simulator. (In a bank its near wing is up but Cessna’s high wing and right bank gives good visibility of the Piper.)
      And calculate relative speed, from ADS-B data. The Piper Malibu/Meridian family varies in wing size and engine type. NTSB says PA-46-350P which was built with piston engine, but there is a turbine conversion (note that P&WC maker of PT6 engines, and Canadian investigation agency, are in the list of ‘participants’ in the investigation).

  5. Is this another case of the FAA operating parallel runways as if they’re at separate airports? Were there two controllers, one for each runway? Did the Piper’s controller ever tell them about the 172 using the other runway? Were there two pilots in the Piper, one flying and one operating the radio? Why didn’t the controller have the Piper extend their downwind to give the 172 time to get on the ground? Anything else?

    • Not sure what you mean by the first question. (1) It’s common when working parallels to keep the right runway traffic in right closed and left runway traffic in left closed if weather, airspace and terrain permits. (2) One local controller for both runways per the audio. This isn’t O’Hare or Atlanta or even the main Las Vegas airport. (3) No, but if the Piper pilot was listening, he heard the Cessna cleared for short approach and the option on the 30 Right. (4) Don’t know yet, data not given. Final report should clarify. (5) Why would you extend either when they’re both landing on separate runways?
      I’m a PPL and retired controller that worked all 3 options during my career, most of it in a mid-sized airport with TRACON including military fighter aircraft sharing the same airspace and runways.

      • “(3) No, but if the Piper pilot was listening, he heard the Cessna cleared for short approach and the option on the 30 Right. ”

        Thanks for facts.

        Seems as though pilot of the Piper was oblivious or dyslexic at the moment, the world may never know. I presume NTSB will eventually detail pilot’s history.

        Odd that Piper pilot headed for right runway despite circling from left side of airport over the bizav buildings. But

        We don’t know if the passenger was watching out the window on the right side, if in right front seat not cabin, nor what passenger knew about piloting.

        The Piper would have been built with steam gages but may have been upgraded.

  6. I avoid flying “in the pattern”, and always fly the instrument approach. Even if the tower instructs us to enter (at whatever position) we at least have up an activated approach to vectors so as to keep the extended runway line in our vision regardless of our orientation relative to the runway. I’m not getting younger, my vision isn’t what it was and so why take a risk on lining up on the wrong airport / runway ? Seems obvious enough. Of course this have provided nothing to the Cessna in this case, but it would have kept the other guy in his lane.

  7. I wonder if VGT had been included in the newly created arrival alert notices (see FAA runway safety) it would have mattered and/or if 30L/R had been marked as hot spots for runway confusion.