Spatial disorientation kills one

Aircraft: Beech Baron. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Birmingham, Ala. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot’s logbook was not recovered, therefore a precise determination of his flight experience in IFR conditions in the twin-engine airplane could not be made.

According to a flight instructor, the pilot had owned the Baron for about six months and had about 90 hours in the make and model. The pilot completed an instrument proficiency check with the instructor about one month before the accident. The instruction included many instrument approaches and missed approach procedures. The flight instructor said the flights concentrated on attitude flying, which was not the pilot’s strongest skill.

The accident happened during an instrument cross-country flight at night. The pilot elected not to stop at a planned fuel stop, opting instead to push on to the destination airport. The forecast conditions called for an overcast ceiling at 1,000 feet and six miles visibility. However, at the time the Baron arrived at the airport the actual weather was an overcast ceiling of 300 feet and visibility of two miles in drizzle. The pilot diverted to his planned alternate airport where he attempted an ILS approach. He was able to intercept the localizer but did not intercept the glide-slope. He could not stay on course or glide-slope.

The controller asked the pilot if he was still on the localizer course and he replied that he was not. The controller then provided heading and altitude instructions in an attempt to guide the pilot onto a missed approach. The pilot acknowledged the instructions, but did not turn to the assigned heading or climb to the assigned altitude. The airplane crashed a half mile from the runway.

Examination of the wreckage did not reveal any pre-impact mechanical malfunctions. Postmortem toxicology testing noted findings consistent with marijuana use, however, no blood was available for toxicological testing and it was not possible to reliably estimate when the marijuana may have been used or whether the pilot may have been impaired by such use.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during an instrument approach due to spatial disorientation.

NTSB Identification: ERA11FA107

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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