This February 2010 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.
Aircraft: Piper Saratoga. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Groveland, Calif. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: While he was instrument rated, the 1,083-hour pilot had never performed an approach into the airport in actual instrument conditions. He did not obtain a weather briefing or file a flight plan before departing at night in IMC.
The pilot, having flown only two instrument approaches in the preceding six months, was not current to fly an instrument approach. The airplane was equipped with an autopilot and instruments suitable for flight in IMC. Radar track data revealed no deviations of heading or altitude for the en route segment, indicative of consistent autopilot usage.
For a portion of the flight, the pilot was in communication with air traffic control and was receiving flight following. As he approached the airport he reported to ATC that the airport was not in sight. An hour prior to the accident, another pilot reported performing a missed approach at the arrival airport due to limited visibility, followed by a diversion to an alternate airport.
Witnesses and en route weather reporting facilities reported low clouds, fog, and precipitation in the vicinity of the airport. The radar data indicated that the airplane continued to overfly the runway and begin a series of rapid altitude and heading changes. Multiple witnesses reported hearing an airplane flying with high engine speeds in the vicinity of the airport before its collision with the ground.
The wreckage path, instrument indications, and damage to surrounding trees were indicative of a high-speed, 80° right bank, and 45° nose-down collision with terrain.
Investigators note the weather conditions and operation at night were conducive to the onset of pilot spatial disorientation as indicated by the airplane’s multiple rapid descents, ascents, and heading changes after the airplane passed over the airport.
Probable cause: The pilot’s continued flight into night instrument meteorological conditions during the landing approach, which resulted in an in-flight loss of aircraft control due to spatial disorientation.
For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: WPR10FA142
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