Preliminary Report: Cheyenne/MiG photo flight proves fatal
Piper PA-42 Cheyenne, Prescott, Ariz., Oct. 18, 2006–Cheyenne N121CS was involved in a photo shoot with a Soviet MiG-21 when the Cheyenne’s tail section separated in flight and the airplane crashed. All five aboard the Cheyenne were killed.
According to initial reports, both airplanes were having problems. The Associated Press reported that a controller radioed the Cheyenne pilot after the airplane took off to warn him that vapor was seen coming from the right engine. The pilot shrugged it off.
The MiG pilot reported that on departure, he had difficulty retracting the gear; only the nosegear successfully retracted. He recycled the gear handle and got a positive indication. He told the Cheyenne pilot about the problem but said he believed the landing gear was retracted. The Cheyenne pilot said they would join up with the MiG, check the landing gear and let the MiG pilot know what they saw.
The MiG pilot circled at 9,000 feet msl in a 30-degree-bank right-hand turn at 200 knots with approach flaps (25 degrees). He saw the Cheyenne at his 5 o’clock position about 300 to 400 feet behind him and at approximately the same altitude.
He looked away, and when he looked back he didn’t see the Cheyenne. About 30 seconds later, he heard the Cheyenne pilot comment about the MiG’s gear or gear door, but the statement was incomplete. That was the Cheyenne’s last transmission.
The MiG pilot continued circling and trying to reach the Cheyenne over the radio. He saw smoke rising from the desert and called the Prescott air traffic controller and asked if they were receiving an emergency locator transmitter signal. They were not but asked for coordinates for the smoke so they could check it out. The wreckage of the Cheyenne was found later.
Upon later inspection of the MiG, there was no evidence of contact with the Cheyenne. Radar data showed the MiG in a right-hand turn. The Cheyenne joined up with the MiG on the inside of the turn and descended from above the MiG to below it. The Cheyenne’s flight path matched that of the MiG and its last radar return with altitude information depicted both aircraft at 7,900 feet msl at 1:46:47.