The pilot was maneuvering to land at the airport in Gustavus, Ohio, after a cross-country flight in dark night, visual meteorological conditions.
The pilot said he became disoriented as he orbited the airport waiting for the airport manager to turn on the runway lights, which resulted in him believing that he was on final approach to Runway 1 instead of Runway 19.
The pilot stated that, during final approach, he incorrectly identified a crossing road that he believed was about 3/4 mile south of the Runway 1 approach threshold, however the road he observed was about 1 mile north of the airport.
The pilot stated that he and his passenger suddenly saw tree branches appear as the airplane descended on final approach. He immediately increased engine power and pitch in an attempt to avoid the trees, but the right wing hit a tree, and the Diamond DA-40 hit terrain about 1/2 mile north of Runway 19.
The pilot had previously flown seven hours during nighttime conditions, however he had not flown at night within the 238 days preceding the accident.
According to federal regulations, pilots are prohibited from acting as pilot-in-command with passengers at night unless they have completed three night takeoffs and three night landings within the previous 90 days.
An ancillary benefit of pilots maintaining their regulatory night flight currency is that it demonstrates their having an adequate level of proficiency of night flight operations on a recurring basis. The pilot’s lack of recent night flight experience likely contributed to his becoming disorientated while maneuvering in the airport traffic pattern, the airplane descending below a normal approach path, and the collision with trees.
Probable cause: The pilot’s geographic disorientation while maneuvering in the airport traffic pattern in dark night conditions, which resulted in the airplane descending below a normal approach path and a collision with trees. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s lack of recent night flight experience.
NTSB Identification: CEN18LA014
This October 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.