Spatial disorientation leads to fatal accident

Aircraft: Cessna 150. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Quincy, Fla. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The 230-hour pilot, who did not have an instrument rating, landed after sunset, refueled the airplane, and took off again about 90 minutes later for an airport located to the east. According to a witness at the airport, fog was forming when the airplane took off.

The wreckage of the Cessna was found northwest of the departure airport. The evidence indicated that the airplane was under power when it crashed into trees.

There was no evidence of any pre-existing mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal airplane operation.

Investigators speculated that the pilot attempted to return to the airport rather than climb out toward his destination. During the return attempt, he likely became spatially disoriented in the dark, foggy conditions, which then resulted in his inability to maintain controlled flight.

Probable cause: The non-instrument-rated pilot’s spatial disorientation in night instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in his inability to maintain controlled flight. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s improper decision to take off in deteriorating meteorological conditions.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA151

This January 2012 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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