Long flight ends in crash

Aircraft: Cessna 172. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Walnut Grove, Mo. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The private pilot had logged approximately 405 hours, of which 340 were in a 172. Of that time, 109 hours were at night. The accident occurred during the last leg of a long VFR cross-country flight.

He departed on the first leg of the trip shortly after sunrise, about 11 hours prior to the accident. During the day he made three stops for fuel. The final leg was approximately one hour in duration and was conducted in night VFR conditions.

Radar track data depicted the airplane established on a west-southwest course and at a constant altitude. About 15 seconds before the accident, the airplane entered a descending left turn, and spiraled down, crashing in an open field.

The post-accident examination did not reveal any pre-impact mechanical failures or malfunctions. According to local law enforcement, 12 bags, each containing approximately one ounce of marijuana, were recovered from the airplane after the accident. Examination of the pilot’s remains noted the prior use of a prescription anti-anxiety medication and marijuana. Due to limited samples, a determination could not be made as to when the substances were last used. Accordingly, no determination was made as to whether the pilot was impaired at the time of the accident. The pilot did not indicate that he had a history of substance dependence or abuse on any of his medical certificate applications.

While the departure from controlled flight suggested spatial disorientation, and the extended duration of the trip likely contributed to pilot fatigue, the exact nature of the loss of control could not be determined.

Probable cause: The pilot’s loss of control for undetermined reasons. The pilot’s fatigue was a factor.

NTSB Identification: CEN11LA138

This January 2011 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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