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Santa Barbara Pilot in Fatal Crash Near Palm Springs Was Trying to Avoid Tall Peak, NTSB Says

Radio transcripts reveal apparent cockpit confusion before Piper PA28 slammed into side of 11,503-foot Mount San Gorgonio

A Santa Barbara pilot was attempting to navigate around Southern California’s tallest peak last month when his small plane crashed in rugged terrain, killing him and his passenger, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report obtained by Noozhawk.

Santa Barbara pilot Bob Trimble was trying to avoid Southern California’s highest peak, Mount San Gorgonio, on Oct. 17 when his plane crashed near Palm Springs, killing him and passenger Terri Day.
Santa Barbara pilot Bob Trimble was trying to avoid Southern California’s highest peak, Mount San Gorgonio, on Oct. 17 when his plane crashed near Palm Springs, killing him and passenger Terri Day. (Accurate Aviation photo)

Veteran pilot Bob Trimble was at the controls of the single-engine Piper PA28 at about 3:50 p.m. Oct. 17 when it slammed into a boulder-strewn ridge some 23 miles northeast of Palm Springs, near 11,503-foot Mount San Gorgonio.

Trimble, 71, and his passenger, Terri Day, 50, both employees of Accurate Aviation in Santa Barbara, had flown to Palm Springs International Airport earlier in the day to attend an event at the Palm Springs Air Museum.

Trimble was operating under visual flight rules and had not filed a flight plan prior to the crash, according to a preliminary NTSB accident report, created with the help of radio and radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane took off from Palm Springs on a northerly heading, and a few minutes into the flight, Trimble made radio contact with the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control, which confirmed it had the aircraft on radar.

The weather conditions that day were scattered cloudiness with a cloud ceiling of about 7,000 feet, according to the NTSB report.

Trimble and the flight controller had several radio exchanges about his intended course and the nearby mountains.

At one point, according to the report, the controller asks, “Just to be clear, you do have the terrain in sight to your left, right?”

Trimble confirmed that he did, and told the controller he was going to perform a 360-degree turn to gain altitude.

The two then had a discussion about Trimble’s intended course:

Controller: “Are you guessing you are going to wind up north of Big Bear or do you think you’re going to be able to get up through Banning Pass ... ?

Trimble: “I’m going to try to go through San Bernardino and out to the desert ... ”

At this point, the plane had reached an altitude of 7,000 feet, and began a series of six climbing, 360-degree turns, according to the report.

When it reached 10,800 feet, the plane headed west directly toward San Gorgonio.

Moments later, there seemed to be some confusion as Trimble and the controller discussed his planned route around the peak:

Controller: “So you’re going to go north side of the peak then ... correct?

Trimble: “Um, say again.”

Controller: “N72J, are you going to go north side of the peak there or south side there?”

Trimble: “Umm, I show that we’re heading right to San Bernardino.”

Controller: “OK, I show an eleven-seven peak between you and San Bernardino.”

Trimble: Um, I’m at ... ten thousand, six hundred (feet) ... and I’m still climbing.”

The aircraft flew west for another seven minutes, then began to descend before the final radio exchange between the two:

Controller: “Piper 72J, you are descending once again in an area of higher terrain just west of you. I have a peak that I show to be at eleven thousand, seven hundred feet just west of your position ... Verify that you still have the terrain in sight.”

Trimble: “Negative! Negative!”

The controller then instructs Trimble to remain calm, to maintain his altitude and to head east if possible.

There was no response, according to the report, and the plane continued to descend for another 45 seconds before slamming into the San Bernardino Mountains at an elevation of about 7,200 feet.

The plane was destroyed by the impact and subsequent fire, and both Trimble and Day aboard are believed to have died instantly.

Trimble, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was the general manager of Accurate Aviation. He also was also a faculty member at Santa Barbara City College in the Department of Alcohol and Drug Counseling and served the recovery community in several capacities.

Day was Accurate’s human resources and training manager, and recently had become engaged to the company’s president, Tom McGregor.

A final report on the crash will be compiled by the NTSB, a process that can take weeks, if not months.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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