Pilot gets lost at night

Aircraft: Cessna 180. Injuries: None. Location: Eau Claire, Wis. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: During a personal sightseeing flight in the late afternoon, the pilot landed the airplane at a controlled airport without contacting the control tower.

According to the manager of an FBO at the airport, the pilot didn’t know what airport he was at, and was unsure of how to get to his intended destination.

Although the manager reminded him to do so, the pilot did not contact the control tower during his departure.

While en route, it became dark, and the airplane experienced a loss of electrical power. The pilot spent an hour trying to find an airport to land at. At the time, the sky was clear and the visibility was 10 miles. The pilot elected to land on a road. The airplane hit a pole.

The post-accident examination revealed that the battery had a low power state.

Probable cause: The pilot’s disorientation during a night flight, which resulted in an off-airport landing, and his inadequate directional control during the landing roll. Contributing to the accident was the loss of the airplane’s electrical system power.

NTSB Identification: CEN12LA060


This November 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. Donah says

    I doubt that this had anything to do with instructors or I.Q. This kind of extreme (and repeated) lack of good judgement has deeper roots. I suspect there was an underlying reason for the pilot’s serious confusion. There are a number of medical issues that could be in play and/or drug induced disorientation. Do we really believe he was just outrageously stupid? Not likely when you think about it. It is a shame that nobody recognized that something was seriously amiss. We should all be ready & willing to do something to help when one of us is in trouble. Bad things do happen to good pilots. One day it could be you.

  2. Randy Coller says

    Sounds more like an older pilot with dimentia or alzheimers. Without more information, we probably shouldn’t speculate (me included). But as pilots, we can’t help but speculate what went wrong. Advice to all…be watchful for signs of dimentia as our pilot population ages.

    • Mack says

      The Pilot was NOT eliminated from the gene pool! He was eliminated from the ownership pool, most likely!

      Maybe he is helping the aviation economy, if he gets repairs.

      At some point he’ll figure out ground transportation is generally more economical, and he could buy a navigator for his vehicle, so as not to get lost!

      Oh! Misspelling is one of the insidious signs of dementia, by the way!

  3. Jeff says

    Where was the control tower in all this? Why didn’t they contact the pilot or FBO and have a chat with the guy? And he had to ask where is north? How did he think he was going to navigate home if he couldn’t even identify a direction? Did his compass not work? Was he on some medication? Maybe the FBO should have called the police? As much as I am against calling them, when someone is obviously not in control of himself, you don’t want him taking out some others with him.

  4. Lee Ensminger says

    There is no excuse for this kind of navigational nonsense-oh, let’s just call it what it is, stupidity-in today’s technological world. He needs some mandated remedial training.

  5. Greg Ellis says

    Are we even sure this guy had a pilot’s license? Something is amiss here. He did not contact the control tower on his way in or out. The FBO should have stopped him and had him at least phone the control tower to have a chat. Not the FBO’s fault of course but I think someone should have stepped in and tried to prevent a stupid person from doing a stupid thing. Fortunately no one was injured. I recall flying to Taos, NM. There was a Bonanza that was obviously overloaded from the view of its stance on the ground. 4 people were about to get on board and depart in high density altitude. The FBO manager I was talking to ran out and stopped them and questioned them about the departure. Because of this they thought twice about departing and stayed on the ground. Thanks to the manager, 4 people probably had their lives spared for at least another day. If you see something wrong or amiss with your fellow pilots at least stop and have a chat. No harm in that, you may help someone out and make a friend in the process. :)

    • Greg W says

      “Registered to and operated by the private pilot ” from the NTSB report. He also states that he never landed at Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (EAU), near Eau Claire, He seems to have thought that he was at Rice Lake to the point that he was confused that there was a control tower,despite having been told that he was at EAU. Having to ask “which way is north and not realizing that he was at the wrong airport the pilot was very confused and likely should have stayed on the ground for a bit and calmed down. If already unsure, adding in the electrical failure in darkening conditions, dark enough to require the use of a flashlight it makes sense that he elected to “just get on the ground” by landing on a road.

  6. vaughn price says

    and this guy was taught to fly by whom and passed a flight test by whom?

    most accidents can be traced back to the pilots first flight instructor who obviously never mentioned using a little caution and common sense

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