According to the pilot, night was approaching when he landed the Cessna 185 seaplane on a lake near Northeast Carry, Maine, and taxied to shore to discover he was at the wrong destination.
He began to taxi along the shore, but then decided to takeoff again to regain his bearings and land at his intended destination.
At the time of the takeoff, night had already fallen, the moon was full, there were no clouds, and lighting was flat. Surface conditions were “full glass” with no ripples, and the airplane’s navigation lights and landing lights were illuminated.
The pilot flew the airplane out over the lake, intending to make a 180° turn and land back towards a dock. During the final turn, he lost “visual height reference,” and after leveling the wings, he set up for a low-sink-rate, glassy water landing.
He thought the airplane was about 100 feet above the water when it was only “mere feet” above the surface, which the airplane impacted at a high speed and a high sink rate.
Upon impact, the floats tore off the airplane, which then nosed over. Both occupants exited, and as they were swimming to shore, they were picked up by a boat.
FAA publication FAA-H-023 states, “night landings in seaplanes on open water are extremely dangerous with a high possibility of damage or loss of the seaplane. A night landing should only be performed in an extreme emergency when no other options are available.” It also notes that glassy water conditions can make accurate depth perception very difficult, even for experienced pilots.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s improper decision to takeoff for an intended night water landing, and his subsequent loss of depth perception during that landing attempt.
NTSB Identification: ERA14CA021
This October 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.