This December 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: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious. Location: Pittstown, N.J. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The pilot and the flight instructor were on a flight so the pilot could regain his night currency and build experience toward his instrument certificate. There were trees 150 feet tall in the vicinity of the airport. After 15 minutes of flying, he returned to the airport. He flew a practice instrument approach before entering the downwind leg of the traffic pattern for landing. The airplane was about 100 feet below the published traffic pattern altitude. The pilot could only recall turning onto the base leg of the traffic pattern. The airplane hit trees aligned with the final approach course about a quarter of a mile from the runway threshold.
Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no evidence of any mechanical deficiencies, nor were any reported by the pilot.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain an adequate clearance from trees during the night landing approach and the flight instructor’s inadequate remedial action.
For more information: NTSB.gov