Beechcraft encounters thunderstorm

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.


  1. Edd Soenke says

    I flew within 20 miles of a “blooming” thunderstorm on a 100 degree F summer day that pulled my Mooney from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet in a very short time, spit me out on top at 72 degrees and discarded me.
    Fortunately, that Mooney stayed together as I managed to keep somewhat wings level.

    Needless to say, I will keep MORE than 20 miles away from thunderstorms in the future!

  2. Richard says

    Seems to me I remember reading about this accident and if I remember right, this wasn’t the first time this guy attempted to fly through some thunderstorms and bent another airplane bad enough it couldn’t be repaired due to turbulence. Does anyone else remember reading this?

  3. Tom says

    This all proves that you must do more than just have some equipment in the airplane. It is strongly believed that this pilot simple thought that he could rely on the equipment to keep him out of trouble. The problem was that he needed to do more than rely on the equipment. He needed to understand that the equipment has significant limitations and that reliance needs to be tempered with a strong understanding of thunderstorms/weather and experience concerning no-go decision making. This isn’t about “stupid”. This is all about who is able to do serious “aviating”.

  4. Jerry says

    Another factor not mentioned is the data capacity of the Strikefinder; i.e. how many lightning strikes can the Strikefinder display. I’ve seen a few cases where a severe cell consumed most of this capacity. This resulted in other cells in the area to appear much less intense. In one case, I had one cell which consumed all the strike capacity of the Strikefinder, the dots for that cell appeared to be boiling on the screen due to all the activity in that one cell. That cell was about 80 NM to my left. (I was in clear air so I could see it and several other towering cumulus ahead of me.) After I passed abeam of the intense cell, I switched the Strikefinder to forward mode, so it wouldn’t display that cell. It then started painting several cells ahead of me.

    I could see how this scenario could lead a pilot into believing there was a gap in a line where no gap existed, especially with the inherent delay in the Nexrad display.

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