The non-instrument-rated private pilot and two passengers departed in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) with an overcast cloud layer at 400′ above ground level (agl). Data obtained from an onboard GPS unit showed the Cessna 182 depart toward the destination airport and climb and descend several times.
About two minutes after takeoff, the airplane descended to 250′ agl, then turned and quickly climbed to 1,400′ agl. The final GPS points showed the airplane in a descending right turn.
A witness reported hearing the airplane overhead and stated that the engine was “screaming” before impact.
The airplane hit a field near Thief River Falls, Minnesota, about four minutes after takeoff, resulting in a debris path about 230 yards long, consistent with a relatively high forward airspeed at the time of impact. All three on board died in the crash.
The primary vacuum pump was not found in the wreckage, however an examination of the standby vacuum pump revealed that the rotor was fractured by impact, but the vanes were intact. The heading indicator and turn coordinator gyros exhibited rotational scoring consistent with rotation at the time of impact. The damage to the propeller blades was consistent with the engine producing power at impact.
Review of the pilot’s logbook and his statements to individuals who spoke with him before the accident suggested that he had a history of flying in and around IMC. Given the weather conditions at the time of departure and observations of the pilot checking the weather conditions before the flight, he was aware that he would be required to fly in or under IMC during the flight and chose to do so despite not holding an instrument rating.
Based on the reported weather conditions and GPS data, it is likely that, while maneuvering on course after takeoff, the pilot entered IMC. He likely subsequently experienced spatial disorientation, which resulted in a loss of control and descent into terrain.
Probable cause: The non-instrument-rated pilot’s decision to depart into instrument meteorological conditions, and his subsequent loss of control due to spatial disorientation.
NTSB Identification: CEN17FA361
This September 2017 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.