This January 2009 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 Seneca. Injuries: Six Fatal. Location: Huntington, W.Va. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The flight was planned for five people aboard the airplane. On the day of the accident, another pilot, who originally was going to be on board but declined because of a scheduling conflict, asked the accident pilot, who had about 2,200 hours, if he had done a weight and balance check, obtained a weather briefing, and was planning to file a flight plan. The pilot stated that he had calculated the weight and balance and would obtain a briefing and file a flight plan from the airplane using his cellphone, however, there was no evidence that he did either. Because no flight plan was filed, the actual route of the flight was not determined. The intended flight was a cross-country trip over mountainous terrain.
Snow was forecast and IFR conditions were observed for en route areas for the time before, during, and after the flight.
After the airplane took off, radar data first recorded it at an altitude of about 9,700 feet during the en route portion of the flight. A few minutes later the pilot transmitted a “mayday” advising that he was flying VFR, low on fuel, and needed to land. The controller asked the pilot if he was capable of instrument flight, and the pilot responded, “yes,” although he was not instrument rated. The airplane was equipped for instrument flight.
About eight minutes later, the controller asked the pilot how much fuel was on board, and he answered, “not much.” For about 10 minutes, the controller attempted to vector the airplane to the nearest airport. Although the pilot stated several times that he had visual ground contact, he was not able to maintain it, and he never acknowledged that he had the airport in sight.
After about 12 minutes of providing detailed course headings and corrections to the pilot, the final approach controller was able to vector the airplane onto an extended final course for an airport surveillance radar approach to the runway. However, when the airplane was about three miles from the runway, it turned about 80° off course to the left. The controller vectored the airplane back to the right, and the airplane turned so far to the right that it proceeded directly opposite the original inbound course and below the minimum descent altitude. The controller issued corrections to the pilot. The pilot’s responses to the controllers instructions and questions were fragmented.
The airplane crashed four miles from the airport in heavy snow. Witnesses at the airport and in the vicinity of the crash site described the snowfall at the time of the accident as “heavy” and estimated the visibility to be between 1/4 and 3/4 mile. They reported seeing the airplane fly over head at near tree top level a few times before they heard the impact.
Investigators did weight and balance calculations using documents recovered at the site, the actual weights of the occupants, and the baggage recovered at the scene. Calculations revealed the airplane weighed about 4,902 pounds at takeoff, with a center of gravity at 98.4 inches aft of datum. The manufacturer’s maximum allowable gross weight was 4,570 pounds. The manufacturer’s center of gravity range at maximum gross weight was 90.6 to 95.0 inches aft of datum. No pre-crash instrument or mechanical malfunctions were found.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to perform adequate preflight planning and to use available in-flight resources in a timely manner and his decision to continue VFR flight in IMC despite his lack of an instrument rating and proficiency in instrument flying, which resulted in spatial disorientation and impact with terrain.
For more information: NTSB.gov