Early news reports described the pilot in the Senator Stevens crash as a hero. According to the reports, the fact that there were any survivors at all is a testament to his flying skills.
I disagreed. (See Pilot in Senator Stevens Crash a Hero?)
As I saw it, the pilot took off in poor weather. When the weather deteriorated, instead of returning to the safety of the lodge, he pressed on, bobbing and weaving around low clouds, until he slammed into the side of a mountain. Nothing particularly skillful about that.
Opting out of the instrument flight system, the pilot had to stay under the clouds. He couldn’t go through them because once inside, he wouldn’t be able to see and might bump into something hard and pointy. So he had to stay in the clear and visually pick his way around the terrain in his path. But as he maneuvered under the low clouds and around the fog, he suddenly came upon a mountain’s steep up-slope. He shoved the throttle forward, pulled the nose up and began a climb. But the terrain rose faster than could his aircraft. He bellied onto the rising slope while in full control of a perfectly functioning aircraft.
Sadly, the new information that the NTSB just released suggests that my analysis was correct.
- The aircraft was equipped with a terrain awareness warning system (TAWS). The pilot had turned the TAWS off. He probably turned it off because, as he picked his way through the mountains, he found the frequent audible warnings annoying.
- One survivor recalled seeing only "white-out conditions outside the airplane." That probably means the pilot was in clouds or fog. Of course, the pilot was supposed to stay out of the clouds, so that he can see the terrain ahead and avoid it.
- The fact that the ventral fin located beneath the aircraft had broken from the aircraft first, followed by impact by the left float, suggested to investigators that the aircraft impacted at a pitch attitude of 17° nose up and 30° roll to the left. Most likely, as the pilot came out of a cloud or fog, he saw the mountainside ahead of him and pulled up and to the left in an attempt to avoid it. But by then it was too late.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly heroic about the pilot’s actions in this case. Rather, it seems he flew a "perfectly good airplane" into a mountainside. Looks like a classic case of controlled flight into terrain.