VFR into IMC proves fatal

Aircraft: Piper Comanche. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Norfolk, Neb. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The non-instrument rated pilot departed on a night cross-country flight in marginal VFR. When the airplane did not show up at its destination, a search was initiated.

The following evening, the airplane wreckage was located in an open field. It was apparent that the airplane had crashed into trees.

A local resident near the accident site reported that she saw an airplane flying really low, at night. She added that at the time she saw the airplane, the weather was misty and cold. Around the time the witness saw the airplane, the automated weather reporting station, located about 12.5 miles from the accident site, reported a cloud ceiling at 700 feet MSL.

The post-accident examination did not disclose any evidence of a pre-impact mechanical malfunction. The accident information is consistent with a non-instrument rated pilot trying to fly beneath the clouds at low altitude, at night, in marginal weather conditions. Due to the night and instrument meteorological conditions the pilot most likely would not have been able to see and avoid the tree.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to continue the flight into IMC, which resulted in a collision with a tree.

NTSB Identification: CEN11FA079

This November 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.

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