This December 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: 4 Fatal. Location: Kissimmee, Fla. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The private pilot, who had logged about 150 hours, did not have an instrument rating, but had about 5 hours of simulated instrument flight experience. He departed for a night cross-country flight while instrument meteorological conditions existed at the departure airport. He requested and received a special visual flight rules clearance.
After departure, the airplane was observed on radar climbing to an altitude of 2,400 feet MSL. Approximately one minute prior to the last radar return, air traffic control cleared the accident flight “on course” and the clearance was acknowledged by the pilot. Subsequently, radar data indicated that the airplane began a 180° right turn and its altitude decreased from 2,400 feet MSL to sea level in about 12 seconds as the airplane crashed into a lake.
The dark surface of the water in a relatively unlit area would have provided the pilot limited external visual reference and could have resulted in him becoming spatially disoriented or affected by a visual illusion. The pilot’s logbook revealed that he had visited the departure airport several times before the accident.
Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to depart under special VFR flight at night when instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and his continued VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in his spatial disorientation and subsequent loss of aircraft control.
For more information: NTSB.gov; NTSB Identification: ERA10FA091