NTSB Identification: LAX00FA302.
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Accident occurred Tuesday, August 15, 2000 in INDEPENDENCE, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/20/2002
Aircraft: Piper PA-24, registration: N300P
Injuries: 1 Fatal,1 Serious.

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 airplane collided with terrain on the downwind leg as it approached a point abeam the runway threshold. Auxiliary lighting had recently been installed in the glareshield. This did not provide adequate lighting, so the pilot clipped two flashlights onto the glareshield, used two additional handheld flashlights to illuminate the instrument panel, and continued the flight. The airplane maintained a gradual descent as it flew south of the airport, then completed a left turn to the north on the downwind leg. It continued to descend until it collided with the terrain. The pilot, at some time in the past, had significant surgery on at least one of his eyes, including a corneal transplant. Such surgery can result in complications that substantially impair vision. The lighting level in the cockpit, with the additional lighting from the flashlights, would have essentially prohibited any dark-adaptation of the pilot's vision, and interfered with him seeing anything clearly outside the airplane. Analysis of specimens for the pilot was positive for the following drugs: Benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester (inactive metabolites of cocaine), cocaine, Temazepam, Oxazepam, and acetaminophen. The pilot was likely impaired by the effects of cocaine withdrawal, and possibly by the use of a prescription sleeping aid. The use of a medication for control of pain/fever symptoms implies that such symptoms were significant. Distraction, sensory disturbance, or impaired judgment as a result of illness could have conceivably played some role in this accident. It is also possible, but less likely, that the pilot had an acute event that resulted in incapacitation (fainting or seizure, for example) as a result of his drug use. The pilot and passenger were both thrown forward and to the right by the impact. The lack of shoulder restraint concentrated deceleration forces on the lap belt resulting in separation of the floor to which the seat belt attached. The damage, deformation, and fractures were typical of a single overload event, and indicate substantial forward rotation of the attachment point during the separation process. This and centrifugal force allowed the pilot to strike the instrument console to his right.

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

The pilot's failure to maintain terrain clearance. Factors included night conditions, cockpit lighting, which compromised the pilot's night vision, and drug impairment.

Full narrative available

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