NTSB Identification: IAD02FA037.
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Accident occurred Friday, March 15, 2002 in Ocean City, MD
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/30/2003
Aircraft: Cessna 172P, registration: N96811
Injuries: 4 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 was over water, making a night VFR approach to a coastal airport. Witnesses observed it suddenly transition from horizontal flight, to a vertical descent into the ocean. According to a witness flying in the area at the time, the accident airplane went over a "black hole," and he saw "strobe over strobe" before it disappeared. The witness also noted that disorientation around the airport at night was common because of the ocean. The accident occurred on a clear, dark night, with no illumination from the moon. Examination of the airframe, systems, avionics, and engine did not reveal any evidence of a pre-impact mechanical malfunction. Post-accident examination of the wreckage revealed that the left wing leading edge was crushed aft, to the wing spar. The pilot was not instrument-rated, but had received instrument training under a hood in VFR conditions.

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

The pilot's spatial disorientation, which resulted in his subsequent loss of control of the airplane. A factor was the dark night, over water visual conditions.

Full narrative available

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