NTSB Identification: LAX01FA129.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, March 28, 2001 in Santa Monica, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/30/2004
Aircraft: Cessna 172N, registration: N2838E
Injuries: 3 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 airplane impacted the water descending at a high rate of speed. On a dark moonless night, the noninstrument rated private pilot rented an airplane and flew below a marine layer of clouds along the coastal shoreline. The pilot initiated a course reversal turn, during which the airplane turned away from the city lights. During the turn, seconds after the airplane was headed nearly perpendicular to the shoreline, the pilot commenced a descending right turn with a vertical descent rate of over 2,100 feet per minute. A witness about 1 mile away reported that the airplane looked as though it was falling straight down into the water. The pilot had taken his primary flight lessons from a Texas-based school, and he was, by his own admission, not familiar with flying around marine cloud layers. No evidence of mechanical malfunction or failures was noted during the wreckage examination.

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

the pilot's loss of airplane control while maneuvering due to spatial disorientation. Contributing factors were the dark night, the marine cloud layer that restricted the pilot's cruising altitude, and the pilot's lack of familiarity with nighttime flight over the ocean.

Full narrative available

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