NTSB Identification: MIA00FA118.
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Accident occurred Sunday, March 26, 2000 in Panama City, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/15/2003
Aircraft: Piper PA-24-260, registration: N9204P
Injuries: 1 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 flight departed where the airplane was based and flew to Luverne, Alabama, where the pilot twice phoned the Anniston, Alabama, Automated Flight Service Station, and received two abbreviated weather briefings. During the first phone call, the pilot advised the briefing specialist that he was airport hopping. He was advised during the second phone call of widely scattered thunderstorms embedded in rain that existed along his route of flight, and that after 2400Z, the forecast was for the ceilings to improve to 3,500 feet, with occasional IFR conditions with thunderstorms and rain showers for another 1.5 hours. There were no known witnesses who saw the flight depart, and at approximately 1752, the pilot established communications with Jacksonville ARTCC (JAX ARTCC). While in communication with that facility, the pilot advised that he was in between layers and heard communications from a pilot who had executed a missed approach to his destination airport reporting that he encountered heavy rain. The flight continued and air traffic communications were transferred to the Panama City Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT). The pilot established communications with that facility and advised that the flight was 6 miles northwest of the airport. Radar data indicates that while in contact with that facility and flying over water on a reported dark night, the pilot was advised by the Panama City ATCT controller that the weather conditions were below VFR minimums and what were his intentions. The radar data indicated that the pilot descended an additional 400 feet after being advised of the weather conditions and began a slight left turn. The pilot advised the controller that the flight would proceed northbound; the airplane was lost from radar at 1813:07. The wreckage was located approximately 062 degrees and .4 nautical mile from the last radar target. The wreckage was located in water and recovered for further examination which revealed no evidence of an in-flight breakup and no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction of the flight controls. Examination of the engine and engine systems revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. Examination of the vacuum pump, and several gyroscopic instruments revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. No determination was made as to the pilot's instrument currency.

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

The pilot experiencing spatial disorientation while reversing course during a dark night while over water which resul;ted in an in-flight collision with water. A factor was the dark night lighting conditions.

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