Near-controlled flight into terrain incident out of ATP/Sac at LVK


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This was highlighted in my flying club's monthly newsletter, I don't remember hearing a peep about it here. That's one scary situation! Anybody know the details?


NTSB Identification: LAX03LA172
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 30, 2003 in Livermore, CA
Aircraft: Piper PA-44-180, registration: N3060K
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On May 30, 2003, at 1105 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-44-180, N3060K, collided with terrain while executing an instrument departure from Livermore Municipal Airport, Livermore, California. The airplane was operated by Airline Transport Professionals Corporation of USA under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The certified flight instructor - instrument (CFII) and student instrument rated pilot were not injured, and the airplane was substantially damaged. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight plan had been filed. The flight originated at Livermore Municipal Airport.

The CFII told the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that they were executing the Livermore One standard instrument departure (SID) and were initially cleared to 4,000 feet. They responded to an air traffic control (ATC) radio call to maintain 2,000 feet and continued with the SID. While intersecting the OAK 060 radial, the CFII saw terrain directly ahead through the clouds, took control of the airplane, and made a hard climbing right turn. The CFII then reported to ATC that they had struck an object and were climbing. After checking for airplane controllability they continued to Sacramento Executive Airport, Sacramento, California.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector reviewed the air-ground communication tapes and noted that the flight controller was working two sector positions at the time of the accident. The FAA inspector reported that he did not hear a clearance for N3060K to level off at 2,000 feet, however, he did hear the controller give direction to another aircraft in the second sector to level off at 2,000 feet during the same time period in question.

Radar data and radio communication tapes have been requested from Northern California TRACON for further review by the Safety Board and FAA.
This was highlighted in my flying club's monthly newsletter, I don't remember hearing a peep about it here. That's one scary situation! Anybody know the details?

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Guess this is one of those incidents that bear the phrase "The ground has a PK (probability of kill) of 99%."
Controllers do make mistakes.

Not saying this was one, but kind of. The reason for the readback is to confirm things. They appear to have thought the
2000 restriction was for them, and it was not. Goes with questioning what your instructions are, and situational awareness.
Whenever I go IFR into an area, I like to always keep a sectional handy if I am not familiar, as was as the IFR plates and charts
just so I know where the hills are (lots of em here in CA).

When I know I am close, and in IMC or will go in, I check position, and what is surrounding. If it seems fishy, then query ATC
on the instructions with something like "confirm decend to 3000' for Nxxx". I've had more than once where they give a bad
heading, and even altitude errors. Though all the alt ones were while VMC, they are still giving those numbers for a reason
so it helps to be aware of the other 2 or 3 planes in the area doing practice approaches, and usually get a "thanks, yeah that
should be 4000' for Nxxxx". Happened maybe a half dozen times to me in training.

If you are ever unsure, ask.

I know the LVK area, it has hills all around that are higher than 2000', so I wouldn't have taken that number, as a matter
of safety.

My guess, the controller wasn't listening to the readback because of the other aircraft working in the area. Or, more likely,
callsigns were not used in all communications, just a "cleared to xyz, 2000" and the confusion could have been on either side.

My work has shown that by the third RADAR vector, most pilots are completely lost. They might know where the vector is taking them because the controller said so, but they don't know the surrounding terrain or other things to hit.

So how do you make sure that the controller doesn't vector you into the terrain?

Set up fences.

ATP aircraft have 1-2 GARMIN 430 GPS units.
That's DUAL VORs.
Fly the SID on the first one, the second you get RADAR Vectors, set up a fence on the second one.

A fence is a VOR radial (or OBS setting on the GPS) that is a line you will not fly across at your altitude. "If we are getting close to this point, we will bug the controller. If we can't get a word in or the controller refuses to let us climb, we will continue to bug the controller. If the needle centers on this radial we are doing a climbing 180 degree turn and squawking 7600."

If the controller gives another vector, set up a second fence. A third vector? Set up a third fence. And so on.

The controller's biggest risk is falling off his chair. Our biggest risk is far greater. Don't be afraid to bug the controller and declare an emergency if needed.

I've had BFL controllers try to vector me into terrain. SoCal has one confirmed kill (CFII and student, splat into the hills, on heading, on altitude). Pt. Mugu has tried to kill a few pilots. NorCal was almost successful in May. It CAN happen to you.

Jedi Nein
Of course if they won't set up fences, GARMIN will have terrain data available for the 530/430s by 4th quarter this year. $500 is the estimated cost. I know our flight school will do it. GARMIN might even have a fleet discount. . .
The things that Garmin is coming out with right now is amazing to me. Right now you can get uplinked weather, traffic seperation through their Mode-S transponders and the TIS system and now the terrain database. What else do you need?


John Herreshoff
I'm with Josh. I fly in to LVR every now and again as well. There are coastal mountains on 3 sides of the airport. Generally the elevation is around 3000'. If they were flying out of SAC, they had to cross them to get in there. Even if the controller gave the wrong altitude, the PIC should have been well aware of the terrain around that airport. Especially if they studied the approach plate and chart. Just my $.02.