This September 2007 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.
Aircraft: Cessna 172.
Location: Kelleys Island, Ohio.
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.
Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The non-instrument-rated pilot departed from the island airport at night. Witnesses reported seeing the airplane descend into Lake Erie shortly after takeoff. A resident of the island used his rowboat to rescue the surviving passenger.
A post-accident inspection of the airframe and engine failed to reveal any mechanical failure or malfunction that would have resulted in the accident.
The departure end of the runway is approximately 200 feet from the lakeshore. The closest ground reference would have been the Ohio shoreline located about 10 miles south of the airplane’s position. Given the pilot’s lack of instrument certification and experience and the lack of lighting cues, investigators determined that he was unable to determine the relationship of the airplane to the horizon, resulting in spatial disorientation.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane due to spatial disorientation. Contributing to the accident were the water and dark night conditions which resulted in the lack of ground references during the takeoff.
For more information: NTSB.gov