The student pilot departed in dark night, marginal visual flight rules (MVFR) conditions from his private grass runway in Rhine, Georgia, that was partially lit with solar lights.
A witness heard the Cessna 150 depart, followed by the sound of a crash, and when he arrived at the airstrip, he observed a light layer of fog over the runway.
The airplane came to rest in heavily-wooded terrain adjacent to the runway. The pilot died in the crash.
Data downloaded from an onboard GPS unit revealed that, after departure, the airplane made a climbing right turn to an altitude of 407′. It then descended to 256′ and reached a maximum airspeed of 95 knots while continuing the right turn.
The airplane then climbed in a right, 30° bank to a maximum altitude of 666′ while slowing to an airspeed of 32 kts, which was well below the minimum stall speed. The airplane then rolled to the right and entered a rapid descent before the data ended.
Conditions conducive to the development of spatial disorientation were present, including the dark night, MVFR conditions, and a non-instrument-rated student pilot.
Additionally, the airplane’s track data, which reflects spiral-like maneuvering, and a wreckage distribution consistent with a loss-of-control, stall-type vertical descent, are consistent with the known effects of spatial disorientation.
Based on this evidence, the student pilot most likely experienced spatial disorientation after takeoff, which led to the airplane exceeding its critical angle of attack and an aerodynamic stall.
Probable cause: The student pilot’s decision to take off from a partially-lit grass runway in dark night, marginal visual flight rules conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation, an exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle of attack, and an aerodynamic stall.
NTSB Identification: ERA17FA330
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.