Aircraft: Cessna 172. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Land O’Lakes, Fla. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The pilot had recently purchased the airplane and was flying it home.
He checked in with an approach controller about 52 miles north-northwest of the destination airport. At the time, the airplane was flying under visual flight rules at night. The pilot initiated a gradual descent from 7,500 feet MSL.
An air traffic controller noticed the airplane descending below 1,000 feet MSL and radioed the pilot. The pilot did not respond to the controller’s radio calls, and the airplane crashed in pastureland about 17 miles from the destination airport.
Examination of the wreckage revealed that the airplane collided with trees at a very shallow descent angle.
A review of the pilot’s actions during the nine days prior to the accident revealed that he flew a five-day international trip as a crew member for the airline for which he flew as a captain, and then returned to Zurich three days before the accident. About four hours later, he began a trip as a passenger to Colorado.
On the day before the accident, he began the first of three legs of a cross-country flight, with the third leg the accident flight. He was awake for about 18 hours at the time of the accident, with stops only for food and airplane servicing.
Over the nine-day period before the accident, the pilot made three crossings of the Atlantic Ocean (each exceeding six time zones). These multiple and frequent time zone crossings would result in circadian disruption and would have diminished the pilot’s ability to obtain restorative sleep during this period, which, in combination with his extended time awake on the day of the accident, would have caused him to be in a fatigued state.
The circumstances of the accident and his fatigue-inducing schedule in the preceding days indicate that the pilot most likely fell asleep during the initial descent for landing, and the airplane subsequently descended into the trees and terrain.
Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to continue the cross-country flight while fatigued, which resulted in him falling asleep during the initial descent for landing.
NTSB Identification: ERA12FA57
This August 2012 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.