VFR flight into IMC ends in fatal crash in bean field

These August 2003 Accident Reports are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, they are intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee.

Location: Clarkfield, Minn.

Injuries: 1 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot had filed a visual flight rules flight plan, despite instrument meteorological conditions at the time of the accident. Another pilot in the area at the time of the accident said ceilings were about 1,000 feet and visibility was less than three miles. A witness on the ground said the accident plane flew in and out of clouds about 150 feet above the ground. A short time later the wreckage was found in a bean field. Investigators determined the airplane had flown into the ground.

Probable cause: The pilot not maintaining altitude/clearance from terrain and his continued VFR flight into IMC.

Aircraft: Cessna 182.

Location: Topeka, Kan.

Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot — who had more than 7,000 hours logged, an airline transport pilot certificate and was an instructor pilot for the military — attempted to take off from a 2,000-by-80-foot grass runway. A witness said the aircraft used more than half of the runway before it was able to lift off. The airplane did not appear to be able to climb or pick up speed. It was still in ground effect as it approached a line of trees. A witness said the left wing dropped and the airplane stalled. The passenger told investigators that the engine did not sound as if it was making full power and the stall warning horn was going off. She said the airplane was not responding to the control commands of the pilot. The airplane hit the ground and slid inverted, then struck some trees. The temperature at the time of the accident was 90°. Calculated density altitude was 3,124 feet.

Probable cause: Failure to maintain adequate airspeed, resulting in a stall during takeoff.

Aircraft: Piper J3C-65.

Location: Chadron, Neb.

Injuries: 1 Minor.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The pilot attempted to take off from an alfalfa field with an upward slope of about 10 feet. Two-thirds of the way along the makeshift runway the pilot realized he did not have sufficient distance to clear a hangar. The aircraft hit the hangar just left of center and fell back to the ground. The distance from the takeoff point to the hangar was approximately 730 feet. Density altitude was calculated as 4,847 feet. The pilot told investigators he thought the aircraft would require about 900 feet to get airborne.

Probable cause: Inadequate preflight planning. Contributing factors were the uphill gradient and the hangar.

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