Currency flight ends with crash

Aircraft: Beech Bonanza. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Theodore, Ala. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The accident happened during a night currency flight in marginal VFR conditions. The 164-hour pilot did not file a flight plan or obtain a weather briefing prior to departure from an airport in a sparsely populated area.

About four minutes after takeoff, he contacted air traffic control and stated the weather was worse than he anticipated. He requested an instrument clearance and approach back to his departure airport. He was instructed to climb to 2,000 feet and then proceed direct to an intermediate fix. The pilot acknowledged the clearance and there was no further communication between him and the controller.

A review of radar data revealed the airplane was first observed at 700 feet MSL in a climbing right turn. It continued to climb while turning to the left and right, to 1,100 feet, then descended to 700 feet MSL.

A witness on the ground reported seeing the airplane flying below a cloud layer estimated between 500 to 1,000 feet AGL, with the strobe lights on. Another witness stated he observed the airplane in straight and level flight, flying in and out of the clouds.

Based on the wreckage and the visual reference conditions present at the time of the accident, investigators determined that is likely the pilot experienced spatial disorientation.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control while maneuvering at night in deteriorating weather conditions due to spatial disorientation. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to obtain a weather briefing.

NTSB Identification: ERA11FA074

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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