NTSB Identification: ERA10FA414
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, August 10, 2010 in Orange, MA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/23/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N21363
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.

After servicing the airplane with fuel, the pilots departed for the second leg of a cross-country flight. According to radar data and data from an on-board handheld GPS receiver, during the initial climb, the airplane turned right to proceed on course to its destination but shortly thereafter entered a descending left turn that exhibited significant descent and heading change rates and varying groundspeeds. The airplane subsequently impacted trees about 560 feet from the airplane's final recorded position, leaving a debris path roughly consistent in direction and velocity with the airplane's last known track.

Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures. Although avian remains were recovered from the runway the airplane departed from, no evidence of a bird strike could be found anywhere on the airframe. The flight took place in the dark night, with no visible lunar illumination and no reports of any obscuring meteorological phenomena in the area, although rising wooded terrain with relatively little ground lighting was present ahead of the airplane before it entered the descending left turn. Both pilots held pilot certificates and ratings that would have allowed either of them to act as pilot-in-command of the flight, and both were found seated in front of a fully functional set of flight controls. It could not be determined which pilot was manipulating the flight controls for any portion of the accident flight. The left-seat pilot had not logged any flight experience at night within the 8 months preceding the accident and the right-seat pilot's recent flight experience could not be determined from the records provided. Neither pilot held an instrument rating. The dark night light conditions and multiple heading and altitude changes that occurred during a climbing turn are consistent with the pilots’ loss of situational awareness due to spatial disorientation.

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

The pilots did not maintain control of the airplane during a flight in dark night conditions due to spatial disorientation.

Full narrative available

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