Tired pilot gets behind airplane

This August 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: RV-7A. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: El Dorado, Ark. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, age 66, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land. A review of the pilot’s logbook revealed that as of Aug. 11, 2010, he had logged approximately 274.5 hours, of which, 5.5 hours were at night. The pilot’s last flight logged at night (.7 hours) was on Aug. 22, 2009.

A Lieutenant Colonel/Safety Officer with the Georgetown, Texas, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) reported to the FAA that he had flown with the pilot in an official capacity for the CAP. He said he had given the pilot a flight check and that it was unsatisfactory because the pilot had difficulty controlling the airplane and was “behind the airplane” during the flight.

The accident happened at the end of a 968-mile cross-country flight. The pilot stopped at an airport to purchase fuel before departing on the final leg of the trip. An FBO employee who spoke to the pilot over the radio reported that the pilot seemed confused, for example he thought he was landing at a tower controlled airport, and incorrectly stated his airplane’s registration number.

After the landing, the employee had another conversation with the pilot while she refueled his airplane. She said the pilot appeared tired and he had mentioned to her that he was “…tired from flying all day.” After refueling, the pilot had to wait approximately three hours and 45 minutes for storms to move through the area. It was dark by the time the pilot took off again.

A witness saw the airplane take off and said it used very little runway before it climbed to an altitude of 300 or 400 feet before making a left turn. The witness stated that the engine appeared to be producing takeoff power and that everything sounded normal. The airplane was later reported missing and found four days later in a heavily wooded area about 500 feet west of the runway. An on-scene examination revealed no pre-accident anomalies with the engine or the airplane.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance with trees on takeoff at night. Contributing factors were fatigue and the pilot’s lack of recent nighttime experience.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: CEN10LA497

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