NTSB Identification: ERA11FA412
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, July 20, 2011 in Erwin, NC
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/28/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA 182S, registration: N23739
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.

About 20 minutes after departing on a visual flight rules cross-country flight, the pilot ceased responding to air traffic controllers after being advised to contact the next air traffic control facility. Controllers continued to track the airplane as it flew toward the stated destination airport and then turned toward the airport adjacent to the accident site. The airplane arrived in the vicinity of the airport nearly 1 hour after the end of civil twilight and began maneuvering in the vicinity of the approach end of one of the runways. After performing two 180-degree turns, the airplane entered a steep, descending right turn toward the runway's final approach course. The airplane impacted trees about 1/2 mile from the runway threshold, and the wreckage path roughly aligned with the runway's final approach course. Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures. The airplane's audio panel microphone selector was found set to a position that would not have allowed the pilot to communicate with controllers or to activate the airport's pilot-controlled runway lighting. A pilot who flew into the airport later that night described that area as a very disorienting "black hole" due to the lack of ground lighting at night.

The maneuvering observed as the airplane arrived in the vicinity of the airport suggested that the pilot may have been attempting to activate the airport's pilot-controlled lighting and locate the runway. The pilot was likely unable to activate the lighting due to an inadvertent misconfiguration of the audio panel earlier in the flight. After flying through the final approach course twice, the pilot may have elected to attempt to locate the unlit runway using the airplane's landing light, the airplane's onboard global positioning system receivers, and/or the airport's precision approach path indicator lights as a guide. However, as he turned the airplane toward the dark area located southwest of the runway threshold, he likely experienced spatial disorientation, lost awareness of the airplane's attitude, and allowed it to enter a right descending spiral, which continued to impact.

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

The pilot’s loss of control due to spatial disorientation while maneuvering in dark night conditions.

Full narrative available

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