NTSB Identification: ATL99FA136
Accident occurred Wednesday, November 04, 1998 in Robbinsville, NC
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/28/2006
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-180, registration: N2820T
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 non-instrument rated private pilot received an automated flight service station (AFSS) weather briefing for an intended visual flight rules (VFR) direct flight at 6,500 feet over mountainous terrain. After receiving the weather briefing, which included AIRMETs for IFR conditions, mountain obscuration, icing, and low en route cloud ceilings, as well as the advisory, "VFR flight not recommended," the pilot amended his filed altitude to 4,500 feet. The amended altitude was higher than some forecasted cloud ceilings and lower than some of the terrain on the pilot's filed route, and the pilot's filed alternate airport was in mountainous terrain. After takeoff, the pilot did not activate the flight plan or establish radio contact with any air traffic control (ATC) facilities. ATC radar data showed a primary target, presumed to be the accident flight, which was first detected about 2 nm south of the departure airport and continued generally direct toward the destination. Mode C data associated with the primary targets did not begin until about an hour later and continued for 26 minutes. Mode C data were lost when the target was about 15 nm north of the Knoxville Class C airspace at an altitude of 4,600 feet. The airplane was missing for 6 years until is was located by hunters in a heavily wooded mountainous area at an elevation of about 3,300 feet. The accident site was about 12.3 nm north of the destination airport, and about 47.7 nm south of the last Mode C return. Wreckage debris was scattered about 275 feet along an approximate 170-degree magnetic heading from a cluster of trees with uniformly broken tops. Broken tree evidence and impact evidence on the airframe were consistent with level, controlled flight into trees and terrain. Examination of the engine, airframe, and components revealed no evidence of pre-crash malfunction.

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


The pilot's improper in-flight decision to continue VFR flight into IMC, which resulted in an in-flight encounter with weather and controlled flight into terrain. Factors were the pilot's inadequate preflight planning and decision-making.

Full narrative available

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