The student pilot reported that he was flying the Piper Cherokee from Oklahoma to California in pursuit of employment opportunities. During that trip, he attempted a night landing at an unattended airport in Cottonwood, Ariz., in order to refuel.
During the approach he was unable to activate the runway lights via radio. He made one approach to Runway 32, executed a missed approach, and then initiated an approach to Runway 14.
He conducted that approach based on two lights that he thought were the runway lights. When the airplane was very close to the ground, he realized that the lights were security lights on a building and initiated a go-around.
However, the plane hit an airport boundary fence northeast of the runway and came to rest on a street outside airport property. The wings and fuselage were substantially damaged by the impact with the fence. The pilot was not hurt.
The post-accident examination revealed that the No. 1 communications radio in the airplane was set to the proper frequency to activate the runway lights but that the radio selector switch was set to the No. 2 communications radio, which was set to a different frequency. When power was applied to the airplane and the radio selector switch was set to the No. 1 radio, the runway lights were successfully activated.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the student pilot’s decision to attempt a night landing on an unlit runway, which resulted in a misaligned approach and subsequent collision with a fence. Contributing to the accident was the student pilot’s improper set-up of the airplane radios, which resulted in his inability to activate the airport runway lights, and his mistaken identification of building lights for runway lights.
NTSB Identification: WPR13CA219
This May 2013 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.