NTSB Identification: NYC99FA041.
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Accident occurred Sunday, December 27, 1998 in RANDOLPH, NH
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/12/2000
Aircraft: Piper PA-28R-180, registration: N4591J
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.

The non-instrument rated pilot departed on a flight at night over mountainous terrain. After the airplane failed to arrive at the destination, a search was initiated. The airplane was located the next day on Mt. Randolph approximately 2,000 feet to the southeast of the peak, and 500 feet below it. The airplane sustained an in-flight separation. According to Flight Service records, the pilot obtained a weather briefing over the telephone that forecasted scattered clouds at 5,000 feet, and scattered to broken clouds at 10,000 feet through early morning. The last radio contact with the airplane was when the pilot reported that he was encountering haze at 7,500 feet. A satellite infrared image showed overcast clouds across New Hampshire about the time of the accident. Examination of the wreckage revealed all fracture surfaces were consistent with overload. According to a witness, the airport was in a 'black hole,' surrounded by mountainous terrain with few ground lights for reference. In the last 7 years the pilot logged 0.4 hours of simulated instrument, and 4.7 hours of night. According to the Instrument Flying Handbook, illusions in flight can be created by motion and certain visual scenes. Illusions may lead the pilot to maneuver the aircraft into a dangerous attitude.

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

The pilot's continued VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions which led to spatial disorientation and loss of aircraft control. Also causal was the pilot exceeded the design limits of the aircraft which resulted in an in-flight separation. Contributing to the accident were the mountainous terrain, night conditions and the pilot's lack of instrument time.

Full narrative available

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