NTSB Identification: CHI04FA157.
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Accident occurred Wednesday, June 16, 2004 in Great Bend, KS
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/08/2005
Aircraft: Piper PA-24-180, registration: N6698P
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 destroyed during an in-flight collision with terrain in night instrument meteorological conditions. The non-instrument rated private pilot and three passengers sustained fatal injuries. The flight encountered a rapidly moving line of thunderstorms after takeoff and was attempting to return to the departure airport at the time of the accident. The pilot contacted Wichita Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) while in-flight, about 15 minutes prior to the accident. He reported his position as 4 miles north of the airport and intended to conduct a local flight. The AFSS briefer stated that an area of "pretty severe thunderstorms" were immediately to the west and estimated that the storms would be getting into the area within the next 5 minutes. The briefer added: "I would not recommend . . . flying around the . . . area at this time." The pilot replied that he was turning around and returning to the airport. The were no further communications with the accident pilot. There was no record of a pre-flight weather briefing being obtained by the pilot. A witness reported seeing an aircraft flying near her home about 10 minutes prior to the accident. She commented, "the wind started to come up and the dirt started blowing, then raining. I could not see across the field in front of my house." A second witness stated that about the time of the accident, he and his wife were at their residence watching a thunderstorm in progress. He reported that they heard a low flying aircraft approaching from the east. He noted that he looked out a window and saw a plane at a low altitude. He added that as the aircraft banked toward the northwest, a bolt of lightning struck near the house. The accident site was located the following morning in a field immediately north of his residence. Weather recorded at the departure airport about 5 minutes after the accident noted northwest winds gusting to 23 knots, 1/2 mile visibility with thunderstorms, broken clouds 200 feet above ground level (agl), and overcast clouds at 900 feet agl. A convective SIGMET was in effect for severe thunderstorms moving through the area, with storm tops exceeding 45,000 feet mean sea level, moving to the east at 30 knots. Weather radar data depicted a line of thunderstorms moving through the area. About 30 minutes prior to the accident the extreme east edge of the thunderstorm line arrived over the area. In the image recorded about 25 minutes after the accident, this area had passed over and was located approximately 15 miles to the east. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Civil Aero Medical Institute toxicology report stated that the pilot's blood alcohol level was 54 mg/dL (0.054 percent by weight). FAA regulations prohibited any person from acting as the pilot of a civil aircraft while under the influence of alcohol or while having a 0.04 or greater percent by weight of alcohol in their blood.

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

The pilot's inadequate preflight planning due to his failure to obtain a weather briefing prior to takeoff. Additional causes were the pilot's inadvertent flight into adverse weather and his failure to maintain clearance with the terrain during his attempt to return to the departure airport. Contributing factors were the pilot's impairment due to alcohol, the low altitude at which the aircraft was flying, the thunderstorms and associated turbulence in the area, the low ceilings, and the dark night lighting conditions.

Full narrative available

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