The Cessna 182 departed Lake Tahoe Airport (KTVL) in California, destined for Nampa Municipal Airport (KMAN) in Idaho.
The pilot established contact with air traffic control northeast of the Carson Airport (KCXP) in Nevada and requested visual flight rules (VFR) flight following to KMAN. Communication was established and the airplane continued to fly towards its destination.
While the airplane was flying over mountainous terrain north of Reno, Nevada, the controller observed the airplane enter a right turn and reverse course. The controller asked the pilot if he was returning to the Reno/Tahoe International Airport (KRNO), to which there was no response. The controller attempted to re-establish radio communication with the airplane, but to no avail.
Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) tracking data showed the plane flying northeast about 8,000 feet until it entered a climb southeast of Reno. It leveled off about 10,000 feet msl and turned onto a north-northwesterly heading. The airplane continued flying between 10,000 and 10,500 feet over mountains with terrain elevations between about 7,500 to 8,000 feet when it entered a descending right turn before the track ended at an altitude of 8,100 feet.
An alert notice (ALNOT) for the airplane was established about 20 minutes after the loss of radar contact. Search and rescue aerial efforts were hampered due to limited visibility surrounding the accident site coordinates.
Ground search efforts located the wreckage on steep mountainous terrain about four hours later near the last radar coordinates. The aircraft was destroyed and the pilot and a passenger were killed in the crash.
No record was located indicating the pilot received an official weather briefing.
Surface observations at nearby airports indicated unlimited visibility and several layers of scattered, broken, and overcast clouds. The observation from Reno/Tahoe International Airport, about 20 miles southwest of the accident site, indicated that the mountain tops were obscured to the southwest through northwest more than 10 miles away. Shortly after the accident occurred, the observation from KRNO also remarked that the mountain tops to the northeast more than 10 miles away were obscured.
The pilot did not hold an instrument rating.
Probable Cause: A loss of airplane control while maneuvering due to spatial disorientation after inadvertently entering instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s inexperience in IMC conditions.
This September 2019 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.