VFR flight into IFR kills one

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Mountain Home, Idaho. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The non-instrument-rated pilot was on a VFR cross-country flight over mountainous terrain.  Weather radar for the area at the time of the flight showed rain/snow showers.

There was an AIRMET in the area for mountain obscuration and the reported freezing level was about 7,500 feet. The cloud cover was moving from west to east and had tops about 22,000 to 23,000 feet MSL.

Radar data indicated that until a few minutes before the accident, the pilot maintained a westerly course toward the destination. During the last two minutes of the flight, the plane turned left to an east heading, then immediately turned back to a west/northwest heading.

The last radar return showed the airplane at an altitude of 7,600 feet MSL about 0.27 mile from the accident site.

The airplane crashed in terrain at an elevation of about 7,400 feet. The wreckage was consumed by fire. The pilot had been en route about three hours and was about 60 nautical miles from his destination when the accident occurred.

When rescue personnel arrived at the scene several hours later, they found 8 to 10 inches of snow on the ground. The airplane’s flightpath and the weather data are consistent with the flight encountering snow showers and possibly reduced visibility in the vicinity of the accident site. The airplane’s flight track suggests that the pilot initially turned back when he encountered the deteriorating weather but decided to proceed toward his destination when the collision with mountainous terrain occurred.

Probable cause: The pilot’s continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in controlled flight into mountainous terrain.

NTSB Identification: WPR12FA255

This June 2012 accident report is are 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

    There is too much emphasis on FAA ratings and rules and not enough emphasis on really what it takes to be an aviator. Ratings and rules do not save lives. Please don’t pass some more rules in an attempt to prevent this type of accident. ADSB won’t do it nor will the 3rd class medical even with added psychiatric endorsements. Don’t allow yourself to fall in to a trap of believing that if you have done what the government says then you will be saved. They can’t save you no matter how much they want to control your life. In the latest news auto air bags are hurting people when they go off. I don’t like auto air bags. I’m so tired of the government telling me what is safe and what isn’t. I think my next car will be a 1938 Buick. I will be “safer” in that without my seat belt on. Yes, that’s what I said.

    • says

      Tom, since you put “safer” in quotation marks, I assume you were not serious about the seat belts. My nephew was killed in a survivable car accident. He was a driver, did not wear a seatbelt, and lost control on an icy patch of a road. The impact was not sufficient to deploy the airbags, but strong enough to kill him. The other four occupants were not even scratched. They all were wearing seat belts.

      • Rick says

        Must have been an unusual circumstance, like maybe a rollover or side impact? Most direct front impacts deploy airbags a very low speeds. I’m pretty sure Tom was making a point by being absurd.

        • says

          Rick, you are right. It was a spin out of control, with a side impact, followed by a near rollover, settling back on the wheels. This violent motion ejected him upwards to the windshield rim. He sustained a head injury, and was killed instantly.

    • Paul says

      Years ago when seat belts began to be a common feature in automobiles and some states made wearing them mandatory, I still resisted and for a long time through the grace of God I went accident free and never had to put to test my intransigence. I was the same way about wearing a helmet on motorcycles. Finally after reading so many accident reports in which it was reported that the deceased occupant(s) did not wear seat belts that were available and would likely have survived had they done so, and so many motorcyclists ended up vegetables from brain injuries, I relented and now I feel naked in a vehicle if I happen to drive off forgetting the seat belt or ignoring it because I reckon my casual driving in town doesn’t require it. I sold the motorcycle so that’s no longer an issue. I absolutely will not go down any open highway at highway speed without the 3 point seat belt and shoulder harness latched in place. I used to put a piece of tape over the instrument panel warning light but not anymore.

      Safer as you describe in the absence of restraining devices in a vehicle which is closing on average at over a 100mph with another vehicle coming headon is utterly daring fate to snuff out your life in an instant to say nothing of rollovers or impacts with obstacles in which door latches easily disconnect under the ensuing torsional and bending forces launching you outside the confines of the vehicle and possibly under it’s full weight.

      If it were just me on the highway, I might be tempted to forego the restraint but it’s not just me. There are other drivers out there over whom I have no control who could easily cross into my path given all the drugs, alcohol and handheld electronic devices in use by drivers today. One has only to casually glance at the empty beer cans and whisky bottles alongside the roadway to know there is plenty of drinking and driving going on and not just by passengers. The vast majority of serious injury or fatal road accidents are due to driver error. Very few are caused by mechanical failure. Buckle up or take your chances and if its the latter, good luck, you’ll need plenty of it.

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