NTSB: Bucklin plane struggled against "mountain wave" wind

This is a Mooney M20J, similar to the one piloted by Luke Bucklin.

This is a Mooney M20J, similar to the one piloted by Luke Bucklin.

A preliminary NTSB report says the small, private plane that Luke Bucklin and his three sons flew out of Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Oct. 25 struggled against icing and heavy mountain winds before it crashed and they died.


The report was issued the same day that Ginger Bucklin, Luke's wife, held a press conference to tell her side of the tragedy.

She said the weather had been stormy in Jackson Hole, a high mountain valley between the Teton and Wind River ranges to the east. The family, who live in Southwest Minneapolis, had been at a wedding and vacationing, and she and another son had taken an earlier commercial flight home to Minneapolis.

She said Luke texted her Monday afternoon to report a break in the weather.

According to the NTSB, he filed a flight plan that was supposed to take him to Pierre, S.D., by way of Riverton, Wyo. and Rapid City, S.D. The weather was sketchy enough that instrument, rather than visual flight rules were required. "Mountain obscuration, turbulence, and icing" were to be expected.

The Bucklins took off just after 1:30 p.m. Forty-five minutes later, Luke told air traffic controllers in Salt Lake City he was at 14,000 feet, "encountering light chop, and a trace of rime icing." (Click here to read the full NTSB report.) Icing on a small, single-engine plane's surfaces can severely hamper a pilot's ability to control the aircraft.

The Bucklin's plane was caught in a "mountain wave."

The Bucklin's plane was caught in a "mountain wave."

The airplane disappeared from a radar for a few minutes. Then Luke took to the radio again to say he couldn't maintain altitude and that the plane was caught in something called "mountain wave activity."

A mountain wave is a situation where the airflow over a mountain range crests, rather like river water over a rock, and forms a standing wave of wind. Planes caught in those winds are apt to suddenly lose altitude and power. (Click here for a more detailed explanation.)

That was the last anyone heard from Luke Bucklin and his kids. Their plane dropped from radar. And a week later, a search party found its crumpled remains high on a rocky mountainside about 6 miles southeast of Gannett Peak, the tallest peak in Wyoming. The Fremont County Coroner said that the four died on impact.

Luke Bucklin, 40, was CEO at Sierra Bravo, a website and interactive development company in Bloomington. Fourteen-year-old twins Nate and Nick were students at Southwest High School, and 12-year-old son Noah attended Susan B. Anthony Middle School.