Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Canton, Conn. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The pilot’s logbook indicated that he had flown one hour at night in the Cherokee in the preceding year. The accident happened at night on the second day of a long cross-country trip.
Radar data showed that when the airplane was about 12 miles from the destination airport, it began to descend. The airplane crashed into trees and terrain about six miles from the destination airport, at an elevation nearly 400 feet below the airport’s traffic pattern altitude.
A state police helicopter dispatched to search for the airplane reported that the terrain surrounding the accident site was “surprisingly” dark, and that some of the only nearby ground lighting came from a parking lot about one mile beyond the accident location and along the airplane’s course.
According to the aeronautical information manual, lights along a straight path can easily be mistaken for runway lights at night.
Given the pilot’s lack of recent night flying experience, investigators determined it was possible that he initiated the early descent because he had mistaken the nearby parking lot lights for those of the destination airport.
Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while performing a night visual approach to an airport. Contributing to the accident were the dark night and the pilot’s lack of recent experience flying at night.
NTSB Identification: ERA13FA064
This November 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.