NTSB Identification: ERA10FA062
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, November 14, 2009 in Dennisville, NJ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/17/2011
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28R-200, registration: N4499T
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 non-instrument-rated private pilot/owner of the airplane had longstanding arrangements for the trip to his destination, which was about 500 miles east of where he lived and based his airplane. He originally planned to depart on Thursday morning, but instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) at the airport prevented him from leaving on Thursday or Friday. On Saturday morning, IMC still prevailed. Several witnesses observed the pilot and his son at the fuel dock, and all assumed that he would then taxi back to his hangar since the ceilings were between 200 and 400 feet above ground level. Instead, the airplane departed and disappeared from view into the overcast clouds. The pilot initially squawked the visual flight rules (VFR) code of 1200 on his transponder, but then contacted an air traffic controller for flight advisories. The controller assigned a discrete transponder code, and instructed the pilot to maintain VFR. For the next 7 minutes, multiple witnesses on and near the airport heard the airplane in their vicinity. All reported that it sounded like the airplane was continuously changing speed, direction, or both. Several witnesses then heard the airplane impact the ground. Airplane components were found in two locations: at the main wreckage site and along a debris path that consisted of the outboard portions of the left wing and left stabilator. Physical evidence indicated that the wing failed in the positive direction due to airloads and not due to any preseparation mechanical deficiencies. No other evidence of any preimpact component deficiencies or failures was discovered and examination of the wreckage and ground scars indicated that the engine was developing power at impact.

Discussions with the pilot's wife revealed that he occasionally flew into or through clouds, albeit usually for short durations, in order to begin or complete his flights. In the case of the accident flight, the pilot had already delayed his departure 2 days, so he was highly motivated to begin the trip. Although the departure airport conditions were IMC, the pilot was aware that the forecast called for improved conditions towards his destination. In addition to his prior VFR operations into IMC, he did not hold a valid medical certificate and no current record of a required transponder inspection was located.

Ground-based radar and onboard global positioning system (GPS) data revealed that the airplane flew a ground track that included about eight 360-degree turns and three 180-degree turns, and that its altitude varied continuously between 200 feet and 1,600 feet above mean sea level. The GPS and radar data clearly indicated that the pilot became disoriented and was unable to methodically and safely extract himself from his predicament. FAA guidance regarding VFR flight into IMC cautioned pilots to minimize attitude changes and obtain appropriate assistance, including use of the autopilot.

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

The non-instrument-rated pilot's decision to depart into known instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in his spatial disorientation and overcontrol of the airplane and the subsequent in-flight structural failure. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's failure to use all available resources, including the autopilot and the air traffic controller.

Full narrative available

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