The former Air Force pilot, 75, had logged more than 16,560 hours at the time of the accident. He took off from Fort Lauderdale in the Cessna 340 on an IFR flight plan.Four minutes after takeoff during an assigned climb to 4,000 feet, he advised the departure air traffic controller that the airplane was having “instrument problems” and that he wanted to “stay VFR.”
The controller acknowledged the request. The pilot did not elaborate on what problems he was having.
He subsequently contacted the next sector departure controller, who instructed him to climb to 8,000 feet. He said he would climb after clearing a cloud and reiterated that the airplane was having “instrument problems.”
The controller told the pilot to advise when he could climb the airplane. About 30 seconds later, the pilot told the controller that he was climbing to 8,000 feet, and, shortly thereafter, the controller cleared the airplane to 11,000 feet, which the pilot acknowledged.
Per instruction, the pilot later contacted a center controller, who advised him of moderate-to-heavy precipitation along his route for the next 10 miles and told him that he could deviate either left or right and, when able, proceed direct to an intersection near his destination. The pilot acknowledged the direct-to-intersection instruction, and the controller told him to climb to 13,000 feet, which the pilot acknowledged. He did not advise the center controller about the instrument problems.
The airplane began turning east, eventually completing about an 80° turn toward heavier precipitation. The controller told the pilot to climb to 15,000 feet, but he did not respond. After two more queries, he stated that he was trying to maintain “VFR” and that “I have an instrument failure here.”
The controller told the pilot that a turn toward the east “looks like a very bad idea.” He subsequently advised the pilot to turn to the west but received no further transmissions from the airplane.
Radar indicated that, while the airplane was turning east, it climbed to 9,500 feet but that, during the next 24 seconds, descended to 7,500 feet and, within the following five seconds, it descended to just above ground level. The radar track showed the airplane climbing on a northeast heading to about 1,500 feet during the next 20 seconds, then it disappeared off radar.
The extremely fragmented wreckage and the remains of the aircraft was found in the shallow waters of a wildlife refuge. The pilot was killed.
The investigation could not determine the extent to which the pilot had planned the flight. Although a flight plan was on file, there was no record of the pilot receiving a formal weather briefing. The investigation did not determine when the pilot first lost situational awareness, although the excessive turn to the east toward heavier precipitation raises the possibility that the turn likely wasn’t intentional and that the pilot had already lost situational awareness.
Investigators noted that earlier in the flight, when the pilot reported an instrument problem, the two departure controllers coordinated between their sectors in accordance with air traffic control procedures, allowing him to remain in low and VFR conditions. Although the second controller told the pilot to advise when he was able to climb, the pilot commenced a climb without further comment.
The controller was likely under the impression that the instrument problem had been corrected, therefore, he communicated no information about a potential instrument problem to the center controller. The center controller then advised the pilot of the weather conditions ahead and approved deviations to avoid the weather.
The pilot did not request further weather information or assistance with deviations and only told the center controller that the airplane was having an instrument problem after the controller pointed out that the airplane was heading into worsening weather.
The wreckage was extremely fractured, which precluded thorough examination. However, evidence indicated that all flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident scene and that the engines were under power at the time of impact.
The airplane was equipped with redundant pilot and copilot flight instruments, redundant instrument air sources, onboard weather radar, and a storm scope. It was noted that the pilot did not advise any of the air traffic controllers about the extent or type of instrument problem, and the investigation could not determine which instruments might have failed or how redundant systems could have been failed at the same time.
Although the pilot stated on several occasions that the airplane was having instrument problems, he opted to continue flight into IMC. By doing so, he eventually lost situational awareness and then control of airplane, but regained both when he acquired visual ground contact. Then, for unknown reasons, he climbed the airplane back into IMC where he again lost situational awareness and airplane control but was then unable to regain them before the airplane impacted the water.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s loss of situational awareness, which resulted in an inadvertent aerodynamic stall/spin after he climbed back into instrument meteorological conditions. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s improper decision to continue flight into IMC with malfunctioning flight instruments.
NTSB Identification: ERA13FA275
This June 2015 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.