The non-instrument-rated pilot departed late in the afternoon in marginal visual flight rules (VFR) conditions.
After climbing the Cessna 172 to the desired cruising altitude, he was forced to descend due to worsening weather conditions to maintain VFR.
Shortly after, an air traffic controller advised the pilot that the weather conditions at the destination airport had deteriorated and suggested a diversionary airport.
While en route to the diversionary airport in dark night and worsening weather conditions, the pilot chose to perform a precautionary landing to a field near Pinson, Tenn. The airplane landed hard in muddy terrain, which resulted in substantial damage to the empennage and right wing and serious injury to the passenger.
The copilot seat was found separated from its rails. Maintenance log entries showed compliance with an FAA airworthiness directive (AD) for inspection of seat rail wear during the airplane’s annual inspection 10 months before the accident.
A post-accident examination and measurement of the dimensions of the seat rails revealed that they were worn but that they did not exceed the allowable tolerances specified in the AD.
According to the passenger, she had unfastened her seat belt and shoulder harness during the flight to retrieve a fallen article on the floor of the cockpit and did not recall if she refastened the seatbelt and shoulder harness before landing.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the non-instrument-rated pilot’s decision to continue flight into deteriorating weather conditions at night and his failure to divert in a timely manner, which resulted in an off-airport precautionary landing and subsequent substantial damage to the airplane.
NTSB Identification: ERA14LA122
This February 2014 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.