This September 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: Cessna 172. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Lowndesville, S.C. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The non-instrument-rated pilot, who had about 600 hours, was conducting a cross-country VFR flight. On the last leg of the flight he did not obtain a weather briefing.
Two witnesses heard the airplane make several passes over their location. One of the witnesses reported that the engine was making a pop pop sound intermittently, then it sounded like a lot of engine power was applied. They both reported that they had observed the airplane descending out of the low overcast cloud layer between 70° and 90° nose down attitude, with the wings level on a path directly toward them.
The airplane veered away from their location, and then crashed into a lake approximately 75 feet from their location. Prior to hitting the water, one of the witnesses reported that several control surfaces appeared to be moving in the correct direction. These witnesses also reported that there had been rain just prior to the accident, and the overcast cloud layer was approximately 100 to 200 feet above tree top level, or about 300 feet above ground level.
Neither the aircraft maintenance logbooks nor the pilot’s flight logbooks were located. Two aeronautical charts were located in the wreckage. One chart was an FAA Jacksonville Sectional Aeronautical Chart “76th Edition” with a date of Sept. 1, 2005, and was scheduled to be replaced Feb. 16, 2006. The other was an Atlanta Sectional Aeronautical Chart “78th Edition” with a date of March 15, 2007, and was scheduled to be replaced Aug.30, 2007. No other aeronautical charts were located.
Given the lack of an instrument rating and the transition from visual meteorological conditions to instrument meteorological conditions, the pilot most likely misinterpreted the acceleration of the airplane as the nose of the airplane pitching up, and applied forward elevator control to counter.
Examination of the wreckage revealed no pre-impact mechanical malfunctions.
Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight planning and improper decision to continue flight into deteriorating weather conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation after entering instrument flight conditions.
For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: ERA09LA527