Impaired pilot crashes

This July 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: 1 Serious. Location: Walla Walla, Wash. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The purpose of the flight was to do some sight-seeing over the mountains. Prior to takeoff, the pilot took a Dramamine  in anticipation of turbulence over the mountains.

About 1/2 hour into the flight he reported to air traffic control that he was at 10,600 feet and had a problem with the airplane. The controller reported that over the next hour, the pilot could not determine the nature of the emergency. According to the controller, with each successive pilot transmission, the pilot’s voice was sounding more uneven and his speech rate was slowly deteriorating. The pilot stopped responding to air traffic control.

Radar track data revealed various circles and a zigzag-like pattern leading up to the area of the crash site. A witness who saw the airplane crash said it fully stalled just above a wheat field. The airplane hit the ground extremely hard and nosed over. When the witness arrived on the scene the pilot was unconscious. The witness also noted that he did not notice any gas leaking from the wings nor did he smell gas.

The post-accident examination of the airplane revealed the fuel selector valve was on the right tank and the right fuel tank was empty. Very little damage was noted to the propeller. The pilot reported that he has no recollection of any of the events leading up to the accident after the initial position report.

Probable cause: The pilot’s partial incapacitation during cruise flight and his subsequent inadequate fuel management, which resulted in fuel starvation.

For more information: NTSB Identification: WPR10LA370



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