Poor decisions kill pilot

This June 2007 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Cessna 150.
Location: Hammondsport, N.Y.
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot had logged 99 hours. About half – 50 hours – were logged 13 years before the accident. The accident happened on the return leg of a cross-country flight.

The pilot had purchased the airplane at an airport away from home the day before the accident, then flown it home. On the day of the accident he returned to the airport where he bought the plane to have its alternator replaced. The mechanic told investigators that the pilot arrived several hours later than the scheduled appointment and seemed to be in a hurry. The mechanic examined the alternator, and found that in order to repair it, he would need order a part. The part would take at least two days to arrive. He advised the pilot of this, and the pilot replied that he did not want to wait. The pilot had the mechanic reinstall the alternator without repairing it.

It was dark when the plane was ready for departure. The airplane’s previous owner tried to persuade the pilot to stay the night, but the pilot insisted on leaving. When the mechanic asked the pilot why he was so anxious to depart, he said he wanted to beat a rain storm that was forecast.

According to the mechanic and the airplane’s previous owner, the pilot did not know how to file a flight plan or obtain flight following. He asked them how to do this, but they did not know so they could not help him. The pilot did not have a flashlight and did not know how to turn on the airplane’s interior lights. The previous owner of the airplane gave the pilot a flashlight. The pilot took off.

The pilot planned refueling stops at 2340 and 0300 respectively. At the first fuel stop the lineman said the pilot asked for a computer where he could check the weather. At 2245 an AIRMET was issued for instrument meteorological conditions consisting of rain and mist and mountain obscuration along the intended route of flight. The pilot, who did not have an instrument rating, prepared for departure.

The lineman became concerned because the pilot did not activate the runway lights prior to taxing from the ramp, so the lineman activated the lights for him.

A short time later the airplane crashed in mountainous terrain. A handheld GPS unit was found in the wreckage. Information extracted from the unit revealed that the pilot entered a left 360°, followed by a descending right 360° turn, which continued until the airplane hit terrain. The final flight path was consistent with an entry into IMC and the subsequent loss of control due to spatial disorientation.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate decision making and failure to maintain control during cruise flight. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning, the darkness and poor weather conditions.

For more information: NTSB.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20070806X01113&key=1.

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