Aircraft: Piper Warrior. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Marana, Ariz. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The non-instrument-rated pilot had amassed an estimated 185 hours of total flight experience, of which 7.3 hours were conducted at night over sparsely populated terrain. He had flown the route twice before in the day time.
The accident flight was the first time he had flown the route in dark night conditions. For the first 30 minutes after departure, radar returns for the flight were uniformly spaced and at uniform altitudes, with the track was consistent with a route of flight toward the destination airport.
About four minutes before the end of the data, radar returns showed the airplane making a series of turns with fluctuations in altitude before crashing into unpopulated desert. The maneuvering and altitude variations were inconsistent with the intended route of flight.
Investigators determined that because of the pilot’s inexperience in night time conditions, he likely experienced the effects of spatial disorientation as the accident occurred in an area devoid of visual references. Ground scar analysis, impact signatures, and wreckage fragmentation patterns disclosed that the airplane hit the ground in a slightly nose-low attitude with high speed.
A review of the pilot’s daily work activities revealed that he had not obtained his normal amount of rest before the accident and investigators determined he was likely fatigued, however, the effect the fatigue would have had on his operation of the airplane could not be determined.
Probable cause: The pilot’s flight in dark night conditions with no visual reference and his subsequent spatial disorientation.
NTSB Identification: WPR13FA010
This October 2012 accident report is are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.