The non-instrument-rated pilot and one passenger departed at an unknown time from an unknown location into dark night conditions that were forecast to be marginal visual flight rules to instrument flight rules conditions.
A witness observed the Cessna 140 circling overhead, and stated that the appearance of the airplane’s exterior lights suggested that it was flying in clouds or fog.
During the airplane’s third orbit, the exterior lights became brighter as it descended out of the clouds, then abruptly descended to the ground near Keytesville, Missouri. Both the pilot and passenger were killed in the crash.
The pilot’s logbooks were not recovered, and his total flight experience could not be determined.
He had a history of substance abuse and dependence involving methamphetamine, including multiple arrests and convictions related to drug use. However, he was reportedly in recovery at the time of his last medical examination in 2012.
Toxicological testing on the pilot was positive for methamphetamine and its metabolite, amphetamine, at levels which suggested recreational use.
Symptoms of recreational methamphetamine use follow a typical pattern. In the early phase, users experience euphoria, excitation, exhilaration, hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, increased alertness, a heightened sense of well-being, and poor impulse control.
All of the symptoms caused by high doses of methamphetamine are impairing, but the fact that the pilot chose to take off without a weather briefing at night and flew into low clouds before losing control indicates he was deliberately attempting a flight beyond his capabilities.
Consistent with his very highly elevated blood levels, this suggests his poor decision-making was influenced by the euphoria and grandiosity conferred by the early phase effects of methamphetamine.
Witness observations of the airplane circling in clouds or fog then descending to the ground suggest that the impaired pilot most likely experienced spatial disorientation and a subsequent loss of airplane control.
Probable cause: The non-instrument-rated pilot’s decision to operate in dark night conditions with low clouds, which resulted in a loss of control due to spatial disorientation. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s use of methamphetamine, which impaired his decision-making abilities.
NTSB Identification: CEN16FA054
This December 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.
not that it really matters but did this happen in 2017 or 2015? the NTSB report referenced at the bottom says 2015 but the article is labeled as news on December 17 2017…
General Aviation News Staff says
It happened in 2015. The NTSB typically takes about 18 months to reach a probable cause, so we highlight accident reports from two years ago.
got it, so it’s not “news” and more of a report on what not to do. Either way, drugs are a bad idea especially when operating heavy equipment.
With al the regulations, medical checks, and flight reviews how does a guy like this get into the air? The government is failing.
Stu Brown says
You cannot protect a moron from himself. When was the last time someone asked to see your documents prior to climbing into the left seat? We operate on an honor system. There is no law against stupidity. You do not want the government regulating us so close as to check in with some official prior to flight. The current system may have some problems, but additional regulation is not one of them.
Rod Beck says
U got it right!!!!
NTSB reports show an increasing number of fatal GA accidents (the only accidents for which a Toxicology report is prepared) where “recreational” drugs were either detected in the pilot’s system (muscle, lungs, blood, urine, brain, etc.), or where it was conclusive that the detected drugs were at levels known to be debilitating. Interesting, in many cases, like this one, pilots were “in recovery”. Basically, these “in recovery” accidents suggest pilots with a history of prior use are a bad bet. CAMI (the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute) has prepared several reports over the years that show consistent upward trends in illicit drug use among pilots involved in fatal accidents. The National Institute of Highway Safety has similar data which, unsurprisingly, shows even greater increasing trends for drivers – which isn’t surprising given the absence of any 3rd party (AME or physician) role in private driver license review. Recent and ongoing state legalization of THC containing substances have merely accelerated the trends. Based on the research by CAMI, NTSB, NIHS, and others it’s kinda obvious that Basic Med will likely accelerate the upward trend of illicit drug use among pilots. This fatal accident reported by GA News is not surprising.
Wylbur Wrong says
I hate to say this, but a way out of this is to require pilots with a known usage problem to be subject to random screening. Fail the screen, you medical is suspended or even revoked.
This is already the norm for commercial drivers (CDL holders) where the company they work for has to have a random screening program. Small companies may have to join a group so that there is a reasonable sized pool for random testing many drivers instead of just the one or two in that company getting tested monthly (BTDT).
In the case that you show positive for any illicit drug, one’s license is subject to suspension, or even revocation for life. You better be able to demonstrate this is a false positive (I’ve known of one or two cases of false positive tests).
While a program like this has a cost, the cost is borne by those with the problem and not the pilot population as a whole.