Approach in fog leads to crash

This June 2010 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: Piper Archer. Injuries: 2 Serious. Location: Great Barrington, Mass. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, who was attempting to land at night in fog, was on an instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance.

He stated that the return flight was routine, and the air traffic controller cleared him for the approach into the airport. The pilot said there were patches of fog at the airport, but he could still see the runway, so he canceled his IFR clearance and descended visually.

He told investigators that he attempted to fly a tighter than normal pattern to avoid the fog. However, GPS revealed the plane had entered a spiraling descent in the vicinity of the base leg of the traffic pattern. The pilot stated that not seeing the terrain surrounding the airport while having the airport in sight lulled him into the belief that he was on or near the glide path when, in fact, he was much lower, causing the controlled flight into terrain.

The airplane incurred substantial damage to the left wing and left side of the fuselage.

The pilot reported that there were no mechanical failures or malfunctions of the airplane. Airports 15 miles north and 10 miles west each reported ceilings less than 100 feet, and visibility less than a half mile, and witnesses surrounding the airport described the fog as heavy with visibility of less than 100 feet.

Probable cause: The pilot’s attempted visual flight into night instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and subsequent controlled flight into terrain.

For more information: NTSB Identification: ERA10CA337



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