VFR into IMC kills three

Aircraft: Piper Lance. Injuries: 3 Fatal. Location: Peru, W.Va. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, who was not instrument rated, obtained a weather briefing earlier in the evening, and was informed that VFR flight was not recommended. He took off into the dark night.

Thirty minutes into the flight he obtained an in-flight weather briefing indicating that there was marginal VFR and IFR conditions along the intended route and at their destination.

About four minutes before the accident, the pilot advised air traffic control, “We are losing VFR, I need a deviation.”

The controller asked if the flight was IFR capable and if pilot wanted to file an IFR flight plan. The pilot reported “we are IFR capable,” but when asked if he wanted to file an IFR flight plan, the pilot declined, stating, in part, “I’m not even sure I’ve got the plates here.” Contact with the accident airplane was then lost.

The airplane collided with the top of tree, rolled inverted, then crashed. Radar data revealed the airplane made a series of erratic maneuvers including a 360° turn before entering a descent and hitting the ground at high speed. These maneuvers took place in the last few minutes of the flight and were consistent with spatial disorientation.

No IFR charts were found in the wreckage but investigators did find folded VFR charts and airport facility directories.

Probable cause: The non-instrument rated pilot’s improper decision to continue visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and subsequent in-flight collision with mountainous terrain.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA012

This October 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. Mooney 9242V says

    Yes, there are knockleheads surrounding us, but personally I do believe some types of training can help. For the non-believers, perhaps some of the primary flight training before the final flight test should involve some dual actual IFR. Nothing like the real thing when nothing restricts you to looking about and forgetting to fly the airplane. Want to compound it, take the trip at night and then once in IMC, cut on all the cabin lights and get the student pilot thinking he is sitting in the comfort of a living room. He / she will learn real quickly the importance of the first responsibility, fly the airplane. Finally, wonder which would have been more helpful in preventing the accident, additional training/experience or the third class medical. Clearly the medical certification was useless, let’s get the FAA to try something different that might reduce GA accidents.

  2. Bluestar says

    Passing through the school the other day I noticed “Stupid Life-lessons classroom filled.”
    Seems there’s no shortage of eager participants, get ready for graduation, they’re on their way to a flight school near you.

  3. Greg W says

    Another hour or two of instruction would not help these situations, judgement was lacking. More instruction may well cause greater confidence that people with this mind set don’t have to follow the rules. I don’t like the proliferation of regulations any more than most, but, many FAR’s really are there to help keep people alive, the VFR/IFR rules chief among them.

  4. Richard says

    The FAA can do all the safety seminars they want, but they can’t stop the stupid pilots amongst us from killing themselves and the trusting souls that put their lives in their hands.

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