VFR into IFR Fatal mistake

This October 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: Cirrus SR22. Injuries: 3 Fatal. Location: Agua Dulce, Calif. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The private pilot did not have an instrument rating. The airplane departed the airport and flew in a northerly direction towards the mountain pass that was along the airplane’s planned route of flight to the northeast. About 12 minutes later, the plane entered an uncontrolled descent and crashed in mountainous terrain at an elevation of 2,690 feet MSL.

Witnesses on the ground reported hearing the airplane overhead moments before the crash, but could not see it through the low clouds, fog, and mist that enveloped the area.

The weather at the departure airport included a broken cloud layer at 1,800 feet and an overcast layer at 2,800 feet. The highest elevation of the mountain pass was 3,200 feet MSL with mountain peaks on either side of the pass rising between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. Weather at the accident site was estimated to have been overcast from 3,200 feet MSL, which put the clouds at 500 feet AGL. The weather at the nearest airport, which was also next on the airplane’s route of flight, 15 miles to the northeast of the mountain pass, had excellent visibility and clear skies.

Ethanol was identified in tissue samples obtained from the pilot, however, the toxicology testing could not reliably determine if the ethanol was produced post-mortem or through ingestion.

Witness reports and findings from the wreckage examination are consistent with a loss of control event; and based on the degraded visual reference conditions present about the time of the accident it is likely that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation.

Probable cause: The non-instrument-rated pilot’s improper decision to continue the flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and loss of control.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: WPR11FA021

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