NTSB Identification: WPR09FA116
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, February 15, 2009 in Hagerman, ID
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/11/2010
Aircraft: PIPER PA-24-260, registration: N8810P
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 departed in his recently purchased airplane on a night cross-country flight without an endorsement for operation of a complex airplane or instructor's approval. Recorded radar data revealed that about thirty minutes into the flight the airplane made a 180-degree turn back toward the departure airport, followed 14 minutes later by a second 180-turn back toward the destination airport. The second turn resulted in a loss of altitude of 2,000 feet in 23 seconds, or a rate of descent of 5,217 feet per minute. Radar data further revealed that about 55 minutes later while on a heading of south at 9,400 feet, the airplane made a right hand 180-degree turn to a heading or north. During the turn the airplane descended 4,600 feet in 47 seconds, or a rate of descent of 5,872 feet per minute. While reversing course it is more than likely that the pilot became spatially disoriented, evidenced by the last 6 radar returns that showed the airplane had descended rapidly in a tight right hand turn. The area surrounding the accident site was sparsely populated, with minimal ground light sources and a lack of visual cues. During the uncontrolled descent the airplane broke apart in flight. The major components that separated were the outboard sections of both left and right wings, the outboard sections of both left and right stabilators, and the airplane's empennage. No preimpact anomalies were found during the wreckage examination and all fractures were consistent with overload. The in-flight breakup resulted from aerodynamic forces induced by the pilot's recovery attempts that exceeded the airframe's structural limitations. The pilot had a history of anxiety and depression treated with a prescription antidepressant for two years prior to the accident, and he was experiencing substantial stress within a week of the accident. His toxicology results were consistent with the use of a over-the-counter sleep aid within the days prior to the accident. The pilot's mental condition may have contributed to the inappropriate decision to fly cross-country at night in a complex airplane he had just purchased. The pilot had denied treatment for anxiety and depression on his application for Federal Aviation Administration Airman Medical Certificate.

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

The student pilot's spatial disorientation, which resulted in a loss of aircraft control and subsequent in-flight breakup. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's mental condition which could have contributed to the inappropriate decision to fly the night time cross-country flight.

Full narrative available

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