Fossett Crash NTSB Factual Report, Pilot Statements


The NTSB’s factual report of the Sept. 3, 2007, fatal crash of a Bellanca 8KCAB-180 (Super Decathlon) piloted by Steve Fossett does not include a “cause,” but does offer details. The NTSB attempted to reconstruct potential wind patterns for the day through numerical simulations and also took statements from pilots who flew in the area at the time. The board’s weather modeling found downdrafts in the accident area in excess of 300 feet per minute. Investigators determined the crash site to be at a density altitude of about 12,700 feet with a deviation from standard temperature of about positive 23.2 degrees C. The aircraft’s maximum rate of climb at a pressure altitude of 13,000 feet was 300 feet per minute at standard temperature. Its wreckage was found “severely fragmented” and burned. The NTSB’s report included comments from pilots who flew in the area that day.

Three pilots (a 206 pilot, a King Air pilot, and a glider pilot, respectively) who flew in roughly the same area of the crash at similar times found it was a “wonderful day to go flying,” and “unusually smooth when it was not turbulent,” and that above 10,000 feet the wind dropped off and the air was smooth. All wind information for the area collected by the NTSB showed winds from the southwest during the time of the crash. Fossett’s aircraft impacted a peak approximately 300 feet below a ridge that ran northwest/southeast, leaving a debris field that headed upslope oriented at about 010 magnetic degrees. Wind accelerates as it crosses a ridgeline. It is not uncommon for winds at the top of a ridge to be much higher than undisturbed velocities.

According to the NTSB, the “airplane was severely fragmented and a severe post crash fire burned most of the structure and surrounding vegetation.” Most fabric was burned and specific to the cockpit, “the front seat frame was bent, deformed and crushed to a size about one third of its original dimension.” Plus, “all of the cockpit instruments and avionics were destroyed.” The front seat belt and shoulder harness was found unbuckled, with nearly all the strap webbing consumed by fire. A five-point safety belt system was also not found buckled. And, “the airplane’s ELT was destroyed,” with its pieces scattered in the debris field. No defects were found with the engine; both propeller blades displayed gouging and were bent. A section of one propeller blade was not recovered.