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At 13,000 Feet, Pilot Crashes Plane After Propeller Breaks In Half

September 23, 2014 - Timothy Cassell, 65, of Saratoga, California had planned a trip to his family's resort in Death Valley, a trip he had made every other week for the past six years in his 1966, Piper Cherokee 150 (N5948W) aircraft.

On Monday the 15th, Cassell arrived at Reid Hillview Airport, he performed a preflight on the aircraft, fueled up and boarded his aircraft, “I did my normal preflight checks and got my preflight briefing." Cassell was cleared for departure at about 10:45 AM by air traffic control under clear skies.

Enroute to Panamint Springs Resort in Death Valley, about 20 minutes into the flight, at 13,000 feet AGL over San Joaquin Valley, Cassell encountered a mechanical problem with his engine, the aircraft's propeller had broken in half.

Cassell said “Instantly I saw this flash of something take off the front of the airplane. It started vibrating so violently. Metal around it started to buckle and shift and the plane felt like it was moving like this in the air.”


Cassell reduced his engine power and began a rapid decent, 2,000 feet per minute. He miraculously crashed landed the aircraft in a flat area known as Forgotten Canyon in Sequoia National Park in southern Sierra Nevada.

The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman tree, one of the largest trees on Earth. Cassell, alone and injured manually set off his emergency locator transmitter (ELT), a distress radio beacon that would alert emergency responders of his location.

Cassell crawled out of his aircraft with broken ribs, facial fractures and banged up legs. For the next 18 hours, Cassell had to deal with the forces of mother nature and its cold, but he was a survivor. He was able to retrieve a blanket and the aircraft cover from the aircraft in which he used to keep warm.



He spent the night thinking of his wife and family, Cassell said it was his faith and determination to get back to his family that helped him survive the crash. Cassell's wife had notified authorities that her husband's plane had not landed and he was missing.

The Civil Air Patrol launched a search plane out of Camarillo which picked up an ELT signal about 12:45 AM, the search was suspended due to darkness. The following morning the search resumed, a Civil Air Patrol aircraft spotted the crash site as Cassell began to waive a red blanket. The park service dispatched a helicopter, onboard was a medic and two rangers. Cassell said “I looked out to my right, I could see rangers coming and it was pretty nice.” About 1:30 PM Cassell was flown out to Ash Mountain park headquarters near Three Rivers. At which time he was then placed on a Life Flight helicopter and transported to a hospital in Fresno.

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