NTSB Identification: CHI04FA069.
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Accident occurred Tuesday, February 17, 2004 in Rich Hill, MO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/28/2004
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-180, registration: N7876W
Injuries: 2 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 aircraft was destroyed during an in-flight collision with terrain following a loss of control during cruise. A witness who resided approximately one mile northwest of the accident site reported that he was awakened from a "deep sleep" to the sound of an airplane engine. He stated that he looked out the window and saw the aircraft's lights at what appeared to be "tree top height" about 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the east-southeast. He went outside but at that point the aircraft was out of site. He heard no sound at all at that time. He recalled that it was foggy. As it got light that morning, he noted that there was a low cloud layer. The accident site was located in an uninhabited wetlands conservation area on a 150-foot wide by 10-foot high hill, situated between a small river and a marsh area. Initial impact was on the north side of the hill. The main wreckage came to rest on the opposite side of the hill, about 120 feet from the initial impact. A detailed post-accident examination of the aircraft was conducted. No evidence consistent with a pre-impact failure or malfunction was observed. Weather reporting in the vicinity of the accident site was limited. The departure airport recorded visibilities of one statute mile (sm) at the approximate time of departure. Airports in the vicinity of Kansas City, about 50 miles north and northwest of the accident site, recorded instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), with visibilities of 1/4 sm in fog and vertical visibilities of 100 feet. Airports south of the route of flight reported visual meteorological conditions (VMC). Satellite imagery depicted an area of low stratus and fog over the region, with cloud tops of approximately 5,000 feet msl. The non-instrument rated pilot contacted a Flight Service Station and obtained a pre-flight weather briefing. The briefer advised the pilot that an advisory for instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions was in effect for his route of flight and that visual flight rules (VFR) flight was not recommended. The briefer provided weather conditions at Emporia, 47 miles northwest of the departure airport, as overcast clouds at 200 feet agl and 3/4 sm visibility in mist. Conditions at Chanute, 13 miles south of the departure airport, were clear below 12,000 feet agl and 6 miles visibility in mist. The briefer commented on the limited weather reporting in the area, stating: "The problem in that area where you are there is very limited weather reporting . . . except for Emporia and Chanute and . . . they're just drastically different." The pilot replied: "Well we're pretty close to Chanute so I think I'll be OK." The area forecast in effect at the time of the accident was for broken ceilings at 1,000 feet agl and cloud tops at 5,000 feet mean sea level (msl) over the eastern one-third of Kansas. The southwest quarter of Missouri was forecast to have overcast ceilings at 5,000 feet agl. The northwest quarter of Missouri was forecast for overcast ceilings at 1,000 feet agl and cloud tops to 4,000 feet msl. Civil twilight began at 0641 and sunrise was at 0708. Radar track data depicted the accident aircraft proceeding from a point about 1-1/2 miles east of the departure airport, on an east-northeast course at a maximum altitude of 5,200 feet msl. Final radar contact was at 4,900 feet msl, about 1/2 mile northwest of the accident site. In the 1-1/2 minutes immediately prior to the final radar data point, the aircraft entered a marked right turn. The radar track depicted was consistent with a gradually decreasing turn radius. The lowest expected radar coverage in the vicinity of the accident site was 3,800 feet msl. The pilot's total logged flight time was 158.3 hours, including 11.1 hours simulated instrument and 0.2 hours actual instrument flight time.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: Spatial disorientation experienced by the non-instrument rated pilot due to a lack of visual references and his subsequent failure to maintain control of the aircraft. Contributing factors were the pilot's intentional flight into adverse weather conditions, the overcast cloud layer, low lighting conditions (night) and fog. Full narrative available
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