Disoriented pilot crashes

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 Cherokee. Injuries: 4 Fatal. Location: Umpire, Ark. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: According to a witness, the non-instrument-rated pilot departed when the weather was overcast at 3,000 feet and the surrounding mountain ridges were obscured.

Prior to departure the pilot obtained a weather briefing and requested the winds aloft for 3,000 and 6,000 feet, stating, “I need to be at about 5,500 probably to be safe,” adding, “there’s some 3,000-foot tops of some…terrain there in places.” He was likely referring to a mountain range that he would have been approaching about the time of the accident. The pilot likely intended to climb above the altitude of the reported cloud base, and, therefore, he most likely did enter the clouds.

No radar data was available for the flight, and there were no eyewitnesses to the accident, however, a witness reported hearing a low-flying airplane followed by the sound of an impact.

No pre-impact mechanical problems were found. The pilot did not possess an instrument rating, which, coupled with the low visibility as he entered the clouds, would have made him vulnerable to spatial disorientation. The pilot’s logbook, containing entries from Dec. 10, 2009, to June 8, 2010, showed he had accrued 158.5 hours. His only instrument time was four hours logged under simulated conditions when he was still a student pilot in January and February 2010.

Probable cause: The pilot’s continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: CEN10FA316



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