Night flight into clouds kills two

Aircraft: Cessna 182. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Stanley, Idaho. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The private pilot, who did not have an instrument rating, had logged 640 hours, including 520 in the 182. On the afternoon of the accident, he checked the weather, then took off. His passengers said the pilot received several in-flight weather updates and deviated from his intended course to avoid thunderstorms.

He called a pilot-rated friend and asked him to call Flight Service to get a weather briefing for the return flight. The friend advised the pilot of thunderstorms and reduced visibility due to smoke along the route. The pilot suggested that he would be able to see and fly around the thunderstorms.

The friend reminded him that he might not be able to see the smoke and clouds at night, and suggested that he stay overnight and come home the next day. He also suggested the pilot call Flight Watch and get an update on the weather. The pilot stated that he was going to go ahead and take off, but that he would return to the departure airport or another en route airport if he ran into any weather.

About 45 minutes after takeoff the pilot encountered an area of precipitation. Radar data indicates that he turned left, then right, then entered another steep left turn, then descended near vertically into the ground at an elevation of about 6,600 feet. Infrared satellite imagery revealed that the area around the accident site was under a solid cloud cover, and the cloud tops in the area around the time of the accident were about 21,000 feet.

The post-accident examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any pre-impact malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain control due to spatial disorientation while executing a turn to reverse his course in dark night and low-visibility conditions. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s decision to initiate the flight into an area of known low visibility.

NTSB Identification: WPR11FA448

This September 2011 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it isintended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


  1. ManyDecadesGA says

    So what did his various previous instructors teach him?

    What does the outdated PTS specify for pre-Private Pilot Contingency Instrument Training?

    Why is FAA wasting time on inappropriate criteria modernization for things like completely ineffective 1500 hour SIC requirements instead of focusing on useful changes like PPL PTS updates for contingency instrument training, or FAR 23 EFIS/SVS display installation simplification updates? ….or providing for simple and free cell base EFB WX access in-flight (instead of things like unnecessarily forcing WAAS based ADS-B and adding ridiculous use warnings on DINS).

    Why was he not able to have an EFIS SVS to help? Was it because of archaic and overly constraining authority requirements that economically preclude STC or logbook 337 entry updating of aircraft with safer and more modern displays for such contingency operations?

    Sadly, there were a lot of other people who helped that poor pilot get where he got that night, many who perhaps ought to be held accountable. This is just the Buddy Holly story all over again, albeit over 5 decades later.

  2. says

    I received my Pilot’s license in 1966.
    Today with all the weather technology there is no reason to take off without checking “Detail weather over the phone with a briefer & look at the weather on
    your computer or IPAD.
    I’ve operated a Flight School since 1967 with 5 pilots being STUPID where the airplanes
    were TOTALED and No-One hurt. I’d say their PRIDE was damaged also!
    We require a By Annual Flight review every 12 months and every pilots need to fly every month. If not the pilot cannot have the airplane.

  3. says

    I’m comm.instument rated 1400 hrs. I wouldn’t even consider a flight under similar flight con-ditions,maybe that’s why I still flying 42 yrs later. In this case that $60 motel was a real bargin!

  4. Bluestar says

    I don’t understand why in the US you are permitted to fly at night without a night endorsement on your license. Here in Canada instrument time is included in the rating to fly at night, as well as specifics about your previous night flying time before taking a passenger.
    Night flying is instrument flying, you need to not only scan your instruments, but use your hearing for the sound of the engine increasing or decreasing indicates whether you descending or climbing.
    Too many lives lost over bad decision making and little to no training.

    • Richard says

      Having or not having an endorsement is not going to keep someone from flying at night, just like not having an instrument rating didn’t keep this guy from flying in obvious instrument conditions.

      • Bluestar says

        Yes, you’re right, the same can be said for those flying without a license, and there are many up there without one.

    • Rich says

      Not sure about now but when I took my PPL training I WAS required to have night time hours AND landings to a full stop.
      And you are required to do have three landings to a full stop within the last 90 days before you can legally carry a passenger at night?
      Were you under the impression that you could take all your instruction in daytime and then fly at night?
      Not so.

      • Chris says

        It’s still required under Part 61 to have 3 hours of night training and 3 hours of instrument training. Whether that’s enough or not is a different subject. There’s legal and then there’s safe.

  5. Ron Cox says

    Dave Hill’s comments are a bit harsh…and I agree with him 100%. It’s an old line, but it’s proven true every day in every part of life…you can’t fix stupid.

    • Dave Hill says

      I don’t mean to sound harsh, but being dead is pretty harsh. As a CFI, I don’t make jokes about dying in an aircraft accident. In aviation, stupidy has severe and eternal consequences. I think we should teach and test the the “Five Sure Ways To Kill Yourself In Airplane.” In my career I have lost five friends who knew what they were about to do was stupid and it killed them.

  6. Vaughn S. Price says

    Major cause of weather accidents is the lack of pounding into a new private pilots head that there is no such thing as “I have To Get There today,or tonight. The obvious truth is that most of the time they end up getting there in a Hearse

  7. Dave Hill says

    These kind of accidents piss me off. Another stupid pilot kills himself and someone who trusted him and the GA safety record takes another hit. NTSB needs a new accident classification – Pilot Stupidity!

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