Piper N36402 departed Reid-Hillview Airport for Las Vegas as it was getting dark. The pilot had his wife and three children on board. Though the weather was challenging, the aircraft was turbocharged, which would have allowed the pilot to climb above at least some of the clouds.
The plane’s flight path, speed, and altitude changes can be followed on FlightRadar24. The radar track shows that the aircraft made at least one 180 degree turn, but then resumed its course.
It wasn’t long too long after that the pilot found himself in trouble. The radar data shows the aircraft’s speed building excessively and its altitude dropping fast. The made two mayday calls (recording below) before the aircraft crashed, killing all aboard.
The flight conditions were ripe for airframe icing. The Piper Lance lacked deicing equipment. Airframe icing changes the aerodynamics of the wing and tail and can bring an aircraft down in a matter of minutes. The loss of control can be especially dramatic when it is the tail surface that ices up first.