Failure to set altimeter results in off-airport landing

Aircraft: Cessna 172. Injuries: 1 Serious. Location: Clarendon, Texas. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was attempting to land at night. He saw the airport’s rotating beacon but was unable to activate the runway lights.

He maneuvered the plane onto the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, extended the flaps and reduced engine power. The plane was two and a half miles from the airport when it pancaked into the ground.

The pilot told investigators that he was at 900 feet AGL when the airplane hit the ground. The terrain was approximately 2,800 feet MSL. At the accident site, the altimeter read 7,500 feet MSL. Had it been set correctly, when the aircraft was 900 feet AGL the altimeter would have read 3,700 feet MSL.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to correctly set the altimeter, which resulted in his erroneous perception that the airplane was at a safe altitude.

NTSB Identification: CEN11LA153

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.


  1. Vaughn S. Price says

    I find it hard to believe that having found the beacon, the pilot should have kept it in sight and noticed he was near the ground. lesson!! keep your cockpit lights low when making a dark field approach keep your eyes on your surroundings, then the altimeter reading would not dictate your actions. PS at age 16 I night checked myself out in a taylorcraft at an unlit field by starting at sundown and shooting touch and goes until me and a dark airport became good friends

  2. Tom says

    Is NTSB not enquiring about the lights not coming up? Had the automatic lights system worked, may be such incidents/accidents could be averted.

  3. Blue Star says

    Consider a glassy water approach, somewhere between 300 – 200 fpm decent until the wheels settle on the ground.

  4. says

    I had a similiar situation happen to me when I was a young pilot returning to my home airport at night. I attempted to turn runway lights on and nothing happened. I remembered that some of the older pilots talked about lining up with some of the hangar lights when the runway lights didn’t work. I tryed that and when a barn an trees showed up in my landing lights I went around. Scared me and from that time on I always circled the airport at night to make sure where I was. Live and learn. I guess you could say, I learned about flying from that incident.

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