NTSB Identification: ATL97FA029.
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Accident occurred Saturday, December 28, 1996 in ROXBORO, NC
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/30/1998
Aircraft: Mooney M20C, registration: N7773M
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

Shortly after takeoff in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), the pilot made an initial radio call to approach control (ATC), then about 35 seconds later, he annouced, 'I've just lost my vacuum.' Air traffic controllers attempted to assist the pilot, but were unable to communicate with him further. Radar data showed the airplane made a left turn and climbed to 1,400 ft. After about 270 degrees of turn, the airplane's flight path became erratic. The airplane was last depicted at 1,300 ft and 2 miles south of the airport. About 4 minutes after takeoff, it collided with wooded terrain in uncontrolled flight. During the investigation, no specific reason was found for the reported loss of vacuum; however, during impact, extensive damage of the airplane occurred. Toxicology tests of the pilot's liver fluid showed 0.345 mcg/ml codeine, 0.134 mcg/ml dextromethorphan, 0.249 mcg/ml dextrorphan, and an undetermined amount of morphine. A test of the pilot's blood indicated undetermined quantities of opiates, a class of drugs which includes codeine and morphine. Tests of kidney fluid showed 0.349 mcg/ml codeine, 0.027 mcg/ml dextromethorphan, and 0.191 mcg/ml dextrorphan. The finding of these substances is consistent with prior ingestion of codeine-containing cough syrup. Codeine, a narcotic pain reliever and cough suppressant, can produce impaired judgment, disorientation, and delayed reactions.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

failure of the pilot to maintain control of the airplane, due to spatial disorientation. Factors relating to the accident were: the pilot's use of an unapproved drug, low ceiling, restricted visibility (fog), and an undetermined anomaly with the vacuum system.

Full narrative available

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