Aircraft: Hawker Beechcraft A36. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Macon, Miss. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The pilot had obtained his instrument rating less than two years before the accident and had accrued about 32 total hours of actual instrument experience. While on a long cross-country flight on an IFR flight plan, he attempted to fly through a line of thunderstorms.
The airplane was equipped with satellite radar weather NEXRAD Composite and a stormscope/strikefinder. Using his equipment and talking with air traffic controllers, the pilot noted a gap in the extreme precipitation, which still contained moderate to heavy precipitation, about 115 miles from the airplane’s position.
As the airplane approached that area, he reported that a thunderstorm cell had developed, however there was still a gap in the line of thunderstorms about 10 miles north. He attempted to fly to that gap. No further communications were received from the pilot.
Review of the airplane’s radar track was overlaid on a weather radar plot and revealed that the pilot attempted to fly though a Level 5, or heavy, thunderstorm cell. The turbulence from that cell resulted in an in-flight breakup of the airplane due to overstress, and the wreckage was scattered over a mile on the ground.
Investigators determined that the satellite radar weather information, most likely displayed in the cockpit, was about six to seven minutes old at the time of the accident and depicted the airplane in an area clear of precipitation. The stormscope/strikefinder would have provided real-time lightning information, however, it would have had significantly less detail than composite weather radar depictions and thus be less suitable for use in attempting to navigate through a line of thunderstorms and in between thunderstorm cells.
Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to continue flight into an area of known thunderstorms, which resulted in an in-flight breakup. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s lack of experience in actual instrument meteorological conditions and his reliance on datalink weather radar imagery for tactical avoidance of convective weather.
NTSB Identification: ERA12FA376
This May 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.