VFR into IMC kills one

Aircraft: Cirrus SR20. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Moscow, Tenn. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The non-instrument-rated pilot told employees at the airport that he was in a hurry to depart due to possible bad weather in the area. He did not file a flight plan before he took off in IFR conditions.

A review of radar data indicated that the Cirrus flew at a relatively constant altitude of about 1,000 feet MSL for about 25 minutes, then began to climb, with intermittent descents of 100 to 200 feet. The last recorded radar return indicated an airplane altitude of 2,600 feet MSL.

The last 10 seconds of the flight showed a steadily increasing rate of descent with the last two seconds showing the airplane in a descent that went from 5,000 fpm rate of descent that increased to a 15,000 fpm.

The airplane’s roll rate during the last 10 seconds of recorded data varied from a 24° roll to the right to a 28° roll to the left. Additionally, the recorded flight data showed that the airplane’s ground speed reached about 140 knots, then decreased to about 20 knots during the last two seconds of the flight.

Witnesses on the ground reported hearing the engine sound like it was revving up, followed by the sound of an explosion when the airplane crashed.

A review of weather information and witness statements revealed that conditions at the time of the accident would have likely produced restricted visibility.

Investigators determined it is likely that the presence of restricted visibility conditions and the airplane’s abrupt turns just before the accident would have been conducive to the development of spatial disorientation.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to continue VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in his spatial disorientation, a loss of airplane control, and subsequent impact with trees and terrain.

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA438

This July 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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