The non-instrument-rated private pilot departed on a cross-country flight in night visual meteorological conditions in the Flight Design CTLS.
After takeoff, the pilot leveled the airplane at an altitude about 1,400 feet mean sea level (msl) and continued toward the destination airport for about 30 minutes until he requested and was cleared by air traffic control to fly along a coastal shoreline at 400 feet msl, under the 500-foot shelf of Class Bravo airspace.
About one minute after the pilot was cleared to descend, at an altitude of 700 feet and 0.2 nautical mile from the lateral limits of the Class Bravo shelf, the airplane began a 90° right turn. The airplane deviated from the course to the destination and did not level off at 400 feet, as requested.
The LSA continued on a southeasterly heading and descended to 200 feet before radar contact was lost. There were no radio communications or other indications of distress from the airplane before the loss of radar contact. The pilot died in the crash.
A witness reported seeing the airplane descending at a 45° angle into the water near Queens, N.Y. A pilot involved with the search and recovery of the airplane classified the conditions as “pitch black.”
The pilot was neither qualified nor proficient to conduct the flight by reference to instruments, and had likely used lights on the shoreline as a ground reference in the dark light conditions.
However, when he turned away from the shoreline to continue his descent, likely to avoid entering the Class Bravo airspace, he did not have adequate external visual cues by which to maintain attitude and altitude. He likely became spatially disoriented, and lost control of the airplane.
Although toxicological testing was positive for hydroxyzine, an antihistamine, the drug was detected in muscle tissue and not in blood, indicating that it likely had no impairing effect.
Probable cause: The non-instrument-rated pilot’s spatial disorientation and subsequent loss of airplane control while maneuvering at low altitude, over water with no visible horizon, in dark night conditions, which resulted in a collision with the water.
NTSB Identification: ERA16FA031
This November 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.