This August 2008 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. Injuries: 5 Fatal, 3 Serious. Location: Gearhart, Ore. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The commercial-rated pilot had over 1,650 hours and held an instrument rating. It could not be determined if the pilot was instrument current at the time of the accident. The weather in the vicinity of the airport was less than three miles visibility with overcast clouds at 300 feet AGL. The overcast layer extended from 300 feet to 2,600 feet. The pilot did not file a flight plan before takeoff. According to data recovered from a handheld GPS that was onboard the airplane, the airplane climbed to 412 feet MSL on a northerly heading, then entered a climbing left-hand turn that tightened into a climbing spiral. The airplane reached 1,350 feet MSL then entered a rapid spiraling descent. It crashed into a home about one mile northwest of the airport. The airplane and house were both destroyed by fire. In addition to the pilot and passenger, three people in the house were killed. Three other people on the ground were seriously injured. GPS flight track data suggested that the pilot may have become spatially disoriented during the initial climb.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control during the initial climb after takeoff due to spatial disorientation.
For more information: NTSB.gov