Fact is that this aircraft, unless it had seat belts removed, was required to have TAWS. No doubt the NTSB will check this out but how they will ever determine if it was working at the time of the accident is beyond me. I actually logged a couple of hours in the accident aircraft many moons ago and over 3000 hours in type. I also know the area quite well.
Couple of quick thoughts - of course TWAS would not have been any benefit in their preflight planning process. If you look closely at the airspace you'll find that the flight they were attempting was simply not viable. They could not stay under the Class Bravo AND above the MSA. Further, once they reached the edge of the Class Bravo they would need to be at 7,000 ft to comply with the wildlife area restrictions. They would have had to climb from below 5,000 ft to 7000 ft in one mile. I am going to speculate that there is zero chance that they understood this challenge and said “let’s do it”. Why they missed it will be the subject of much conjecture and investigation. One possibility is that they erroneously assumed that the FAA would not create a situation where you had an MSA and a Class Bravo floor that were essentially in conflict with one another and wouldn't allow for a safe climb gradient over adjacent terrain. The AOPA cautioned the FAA about this specific airspace (mentioning the Superstition Range by name) in 2006. The FAA went ahead with their airspace redesign anyway. Why? I suspect that will be a question exhaustively explored by lawyers in the coming weeks, months and years. Frankly, if I was on the airspace design team I would be absolutely sick to my stomach right now. (Perhaps I am missing something here and being unfair. If so tell me what it is.) When you do the math you see they had 30 seconds or less to climb above the terrain once they cleared the edge of the Bravo. Think about that....30 seconds if they start their climb EXACTLY at the edge of the Bravo at night with a full airplane. Possible in an AC90? Yep. Recommended?, not even on a bright sunny day. Even if you did clear the terrain you’d be in violation of the wildlife area altitude restrictions.
If they had TWAS and it was working it should have progressively warned them. I have had TWAS alerts in the flight levels in my Commanders. Conclusion, they don't always work as designed. No surprise. More importantly, I have had them warn when they shouldn't at lower altitudes. My first reaction, wrongly no doubt, has been to pause before reacting. I am not expecting it and I want to understand the threat before I react especially with the Class Bravo and the associated traffic above me. Given the small margin they had, any delay in action was likely fatal. Certainly synthetic vision (even the reasonable facsimile that's available on a handheld) would have helped. Using the flight profile view on ADDS or on a handheld like the 796 from Garmin would have led to the right questions in the preflight planning process.
It will not be surprising if the NTSB concludes that the PIC did not make himself fully aware of all the data necessary to safely complete the flight as planned. To what degree the FAA will be held accountable given the concerns expressed to them by the AOPA will be make this investigation worth watching.
The thing that scares me about this accident is it could have happened to anyone. How many times have you said, “busy airspace tonight…let’s go VFR, we’ll stay 500 ft below the Class Bravo and climb to cruise altitude at the edge”? If you had been at KFFZ headed to KSAD in a fast aircraft on the busiest air travel day of the year, with three young kids who, no doubt, were a little restless, with NO chance of a class bravo and a likely delay for an IFR, would you have had the discipline to recognize that the flight wasn’t possible. Would you have even been able to put your hands on a VFR sectional if you were flying a turbine? Would you have had the patience to wait to get an IFR clearance? When that TWAS alert fired when you were totally focused on not busting the airspace above would you have instantly climbed even though airliners were descending right from above? All I will say is knowing what I know today? the answer is a resounding yes!. This tragedy has changed me forever.
I have 3 points-
1. In a good copy of the video, one can easily see another set of recognition lights above & ahead of the accident airplane. They are not a video artifact of any sort. They continue after the explosion. Doesn't seem to be causative, just interesting.
2. A route a little to the North or especially the South would have taken the accident airplane away from the highest part of the mountains. Being familiar with the area, perhaps the pilot planned to avoid the mountain that way.
3. Has anyone tried flying under the Las Vegas outer class B shelf on the Southwest side of the airspace in the dark? That certainly set off a Terrain Warning in my 430! (I learned big time from that.) The outer edge of it turns out to be awfully close to the rocks. It is much worse than the situation on the East side of the Phoenix class B.
I have spent many years flying in the Phoenix area both VFR and IFR and Class Bravo VFR clearances are just non-existent on the east and west sides. PHX TRACON only accommodates VFR traffic transitioning north or south directly over PHX. An IFR departure out of FFZ to SAD adds quite a few extra miles that makes a VFR departure is very tempting. This night VFR flight can be done safely, but you need fly southeast under the Bravo to the VPREN intersection and then you can circle and climb before heading east without the worry of busting airspace. I agree the PHX airspace redesign is extremely flawed, but the buck stops at the PIC. What a sad situation.
Could all have been prevented if he had filed an IFR flight plan. In mountanious terrain at night why take the chance flying VFR?
I should have clearly pointed out that the Commander in question was required to have TAWS. Whether it was being monitored is not known and might never be. My point was that even pilots flying airplanes not required to have TAWS should get it and use it. That's the point I intended to make.
Your points are very well taken. Distraction, possible traffic (there are reports of a second airplane in the vicinity) the questionable airspace redesign and the busy ATC environment are all factors that will surely be taken into account by investigators and hopefully airspace designers.
Why the heck wouldn't a pilot ask for a climb through Bravo? It doesn't take any time, and there is no prefiling necessary and no burden on the system. I'm sure this is common in this area, and the controllers familiar with its necessity. Up here in the woods there are quite a few guys who would die, and have died, rather than talk to ATC. But a bigtime pilot in a Twin Commander should know every trick to get out of Dodge.
I started flying at KOAK, and we were taught to ask for a Bravo climb regularly - easier on the incoming traffic and the controller, as well as our little planes.
If the pilot desired to be out of class B he could have done it by simply following a slightly more southerly track, an insignificant detour, the terrain there was much lower and there was plenty of room to climb after leaving behind the outer perimeter of class B. Seems to me like a very poorly planned departure, I would think that such a mistake is more in line with a student pilot on his first night solo flight but not someone who owns an aviation business and flies twin turbine aircraft. And this is how you fly with your kids?!, I find no excuses here, sorry.
I felt compelled to comment here as the mother of the 3 children who perished and ex wife of one of the deceased pilots in this tragedy. I am a CFII/MEI and have flown under part 91,135, and 121. I have recently hiked to the crash site and done as much investigating as possible on my own. After reading the many comments I would like to share my appreciation for your input. In all honesty in the 28 years that I have been flying this is the most bizarre accident I have ever encountered. Knowing the reputation, of the pilots, the maintenance, the aircraft etc. I never had a single reservation about putting my children on that flight. Certainly much speculation has crossed my mind and deprived me of hours of sleep. As a pilot and one who has studied many aviation accidents I know that usually there are several links that contribute to the final demise of a flight. Had any one of those links been broken I would likely not be writing this. Only time and meticulous investigating will hopefully bring the answers we all seek.
I don't see VPREN but I see IWA VOR. They could fly southeast to this VOR and then follow some easterly radial that would keep them out of the wilderness and restricted areas with room to spare. It seems that out of the possible departure headings they picked the absolute worst.
As it has been pointed out, it isn't easy to get clearance into the Bravo on the east side. This pilot would probably have known that. The fact that he was flying a route he regularly flies does NOT equate to a free pass for a safe flight along that route. The opposite may in fact be true; complacency kills.
Maybe this pilot invented his own DP.
Since it seems to be clear that the aircraft impacted terrain in straight and level flight, we can probably safely draw some conclusions: 1) It wasn't the airplane's fault 2) It wasn't the mountain's fault 3) It wasn't the Sun's fault.
There aren't a whole lot of things left to point fingers at.
Several comments here suggest that because a Bravo clearance can be obtained in one locale, it should be available in another. That is clearly not the case. Comparing either PHX or LAS to Southern California just isn't a valid discussion here, as the environments are completely different.
There are many factors at work when a VFR Bravo clearance is issued (or not issued), and getting one in the desert southwest can be difficult at best. Flying around Phoenix and Las Vegas combines busy Bravo airspace with rising terrain. Getting a VFR entry, exit, or transition in either area can be hit or miss, and they'll generally tell you to remain clear of Bravo. Oh sure, they'll give you a code to squawk (thereby adding to the ATC workload tally), though 'remain clear' can hardly be construed as giving Bravo services.
But you can't blame the Bravo airspace for this unfortunate event. Sure, they probably would have climbed higher IF the Bravo airspace was different, or IF a Bravo clearance had been obtained. Would TAWS have helped? One would think so, but apparently not since the airplane was equipped as required. I don't believe this accident was about airspace or failure to use technology, other than to call them 'contributing factors'. It appears a slightly different route that accommodated both the terrain and Bravo airspace would have helped more than anything.
This was a VFR flight - Visual Flight Rules. Saying "we told you so" about an old airspace argument isn't going to change the fact that the PIC, whoever it was, failed to maintain clearance from terrain. As is almost always the case, that's likely what the NTSB report will say.