NTSB Identification: LAX02LA001.
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Accident occurred Sunday, October 07, 2001 in Petaluma, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/28/2002
Aircraft: Aero Commander 500, registration: N7846C
Injuries: 3 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The noninstrument rated pilot reported that he received a weather briefing and that visual flight rules (VFR) conditions prevailed at his destination, 31 miles to the southeast. It was a dark, moonless, night but stars were visible in the sky at the departure airport with haze to the west. Lights were visible 10 miles to the south. The pilot departed on runway 29 and made a right, downwind departure. During the departure turn, he encountered instrument meteorological conditions at about 900 feet. He reported that while in the clouds he had difficulty leveling the wings and there was "some altitude fluctuation." During this time there was a "pop" sound and the aircraft became difficult to control. He broke out on top of the clouds at 2,700 feet and proceeded to landing at his original destination. Control of the aircraft required him to input full right rudder control, 90 percent of available right aileron control, and to reduce power on the right engine. Inspection of the left wing revealed damage to the outboard 5 feet of the wing leading edge and embedded tree debris.

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

The pilot's inadvertent (dark, nighttime) VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions and subsequent loss of altitude control. A factor in the accident was the pilot's inadequate preflight weather evaluation.

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