NTSB Identification: ERA11FA467
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, August 20, 2011 in Titusville, PA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/07/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA 172M, registration: N13126
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 instrument-rated flight instructor and student pilot were on a night visual flight rules cross-country flight that included landings at two other airports and a return to the original departure airport. The student pilot had obtained a preflight weather briefing that indicated that some local weather reporting stations were reporting marginal visibilities, likely due to ground fog. A postaccident weather study indicated that the weather conditions were likely to deteriorate further and become instrument meteorological conditions due to ground fog.
Local law enforcement personnel were dispatched to the destination airport after citizens called the emergency operators and reported an airplane was circling the airport. A police officer who was unable to locate the airplane reported that a heavy fog was present and visibility was between 30 to 40 feet. Review of recorded radar data revealed the airplane flew over the destination airport at 2,700 feet above ground level (agl). The last radar return indicated the airplane had descended to 1,500 feet agl about 1 /2 mile south west of the destination airport. The airplane was located in the vicinity of that radar return. The flight instructor and student pilot likely encountered instrument meteorological conditions as they approached their original departure airport; however, they did not contact or request any assistance from air traffic controllers.

Examination of the airplane revealed no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

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

The flight instructor's improper decision to attempt a visual descent into instrument meteorological conditions while approaching the destination airport, which resulted in an in-flight collision with trees and terrain.

Full narrative available

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