NTSB Identification: LAX03FA077.
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Accident occurred Saturday, January 25, 2003 in Kalaupapa, HI
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/30/2004
Aircraft: Cessna 172N, registration: N911FC
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 student pilot obtained an in-person weather briefing from the local flight service station (FSS) prior to departure for a solo cross-country flight between two islands. The printed weather information used to provide the briefing depicted visual flight rule (VFR) conditions throughout the planned route of flight. During the time the student was obtaining weather information and planning his flight, the flight instructor obtained a weather briefing from the FSS via telephone. Review of the recorded conversation between the weather briefer and the flight instructor revealed current and forecast weather conditions provided were above VFR weather minimums, and a recommendation discouraging VFR flight was not provided. The accident flight was the student's first solo cross-country. He had flown the same route of flight with his flight instructor 1 week prior to the accident. According to the flight instructor, the student planned to make the flight at 3,500 feet msl. The majority of the flight was to be over open ocean water along the north shore of an island with rugged mountainous terrain of elevations up to 4,961 feet msl. Review of radar data revealed the student pilot descended the airplane from 2,200 feet msl to as low as 1,000 feet msl as it traveled along the planned route. According to two military pilots, who were flying helicopters in the opposite direction along the same route and one of whom observed the accident airplane, the student was eventually going to encounter instrument meteorological conditions at the elevation he was flying. They reported the weather conditions as scattered clouds at 700 feet agl and broken clouds at 1,000 feet agl with precipitation and visibilities between 3 to 5 miles. Radar data depicted the airplane gaining altitude to about 1,500 feet msl before turning south toward higher terrain on the coast of the island. The wreckage was located at the 1,500-foot level of a steeply rising mountain. No preaccident anomalies were noted with the aircraft. According to the flight instructor, if her student could not see the next visual checkpoint during the cross-country flight, he was to turn around and return to the departure airport. Steep mountains separated the accident site from the closest weather reporting facility (11 miles away). The weather conditions at the reporting facility when the accident flight passed that location were a few clouds at 800 feet agl, scattered clouds at 2,400 feet agl, and broken clouds at 5,500 feet agl, with a visibility 10 miles.

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

the student pilot's inadvertent VFR flight into IMC, which resulted in his in-flight collision with mountainous terrain while maneuvering. A contributing factor was the low ceiling weather condition.

Full narrative available

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