Disoriented pilot crashes

Aircraft: Cessna 350 Corvalis. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Salisbury, N.C. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: Before the airplane continued on a cross-country flight, a lineman at the airport spoke to the pilot, who did not have an instrument rating, and mentioned the marginal nature of the weather.

The pilot responded that he was going to stay below 1,900 feet and that he should be fine. The lineman recalled looking at the AWOS and noted it was reporting 1,800-foot ceilings and 10 miles visibility locally. When the aircraft took off, the weather was VFR in light rain.

Witnesses reported that the airplane’s departure was normal. The airplane was not captured on radar, and the pilot was not in radio contact with air traffic control.

Witnesses near the accident site said they heard the airplane flying overhead but did not see it due to heavy fog. One witness reported that shortly after hearing the aircraft overhead, he heard a loud splash in a nearby lake and, as he turned toward the lake, he saw a large spray of water. Shortly thereafter, a large amount of debris was observed in the water. About 30 minutes elapsed between the time the airplane took off and when it hit the lake.

The airplane was recovered from the lake and exhibited severe fragmentation, consistent with a steep, high-speed descent and impact.

The post-accident examination revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation. Investigators speculated the pilot encountered instrument meteorological conditions. The steep, high-speed impact is consistent with an uncontrolled descent due to spatial disorientation.

Probable cause: The non-instrument-rated pilot’s decision to continue flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and a loss of control.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA205

This March 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 Beck says

    I can’t imagine a Corvalis not being equipped with an autopilot and glass cockpit! That said, even without an instrument rating, a pilot sharp enough have earned the complex acft endorsement should have been able to slow down and work his way to a safe landing … assuming he didn’t panic of course. What a shame!

  2. Ray says

    People, please don’t make light of these stories. Snarky comments and cute poems have no place here. Lest we decend into the realm of Huffpo or the mainstream media, let’s keep aviation the last bastion of strait thinking, sanity and professionalism that we all know it to be.

  3. Jack Meagher says

    Even though hundreds if not thousands of folks have died in exactly this kind of accident, it remains quite sad. Why? Mostly becayse it didn’t have to happen. I must to go along with Bluestar. One can only imagine the thoughts the “pilot” had when he realized he – and his trusting passenger – were seconds from eternity.

  4. BJS says

    I always love reading comments from arm chair quarterbacks; at least the ones that make grammatical sense.

  5. Tom says

    It’s not VFR into IFR that’s the problem,
    Skill at flying on instruments is key,
    The “rules” don’t make you safe more than,
    Control of the aircraft – you must be.

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