Unusual attitude leads to crash

Aircraft: Cessna Turbo 206. Injuries: 2 Fatal, 2 Serious. Location: Show Low, Ariz. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The private pilot, who did not have an instrument rating, and three passengers took off before dawn. The moon was below the horizon. At the time of the departure the airport’s automated weather observation system was reporting eight miles visibility, with low broken cloud ceilings and freezing dense fog. The airport was located on the outskirts of a town, and the route of flight following the initial turn was toward a sparsely populated area.

One passenger reported that after takeoff, the plane made an unexpected right turn. A witness on the ground stated that the airplane went into an unusual attitude shortly after takeoff. The airplane flew out of view, then the witness saw an explosion beyond the runway.

The debris field and associated ground scars were perpendicular to the runway and consistent with a high-speed, right-wing-low descent into the ground. All sections of the airplane were located at the accident site, and no anomalies were noted with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation.

The damage to the propeller and turbocharger was consistent with the engine producing power at the time of impact.

Investigators speculated that the pilot’s lack of instrument experience coupled with the low lighting and weather conditions could have made him vulnerable to spatial disorientation. The airplane’s impact trajectory was consistent with the pilot experiencing this phenomenon.

Shortly after the accident an instrument-rated pilot departed from the same runway. He told investigators that before departure, he could see haze beginning to form close to the ground but could still see clear skies in his direction of travel and presumed that visual meteorological conditions existed. However, during the initial climb, he inadvertently entered a fog layer, and became disoriented.

Probable cause: The pilot’s encounter with low clouds/low visibility conditions during the initial climb, which resulted in spatial disorientation and loss of airplane control.

NTSB Identification: WPR12FA091

This February 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.


  1. Tom says

    He took off when the weather was bad,
    The fog laid out there in wait,
    No instrument rating he had,
    Three others, himself, death their fate.

    Could it have been sleep apnea again?
    Or that 3rd class medical the cause?
    Neither of those was to blame,
    Twas violating aerodynamic laws.

  2. tim fountain says

    @ Tom, true, but even with an IR I really would have to understand how thick that “dense, freezing fog and low, broken cloud” really was before I launched….

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