NTSB Identification: ERA12FA012
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, October 02, 2011 in Peru, WV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/18/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-32R-300, registration: N115CL
Injuries: 3 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 pilot, who was also the owner of the airplane, departed on a night visual flight rules (VFR) flight. Weather conditions at the departure airport were VFR, the weather conditions en route were a combination of marginal VFR and instrument flight rules (IFR), and the weather at the destination airport was IFR. The pilot had obtained a weather briefing earlier in the evening, during which he was informed that VFR flight was not recommended. About 30 minutes before the accident, the pilot's in-flight weather briefing indicated that instrument meteorological conditions, including low ceilings and mountain obscuration, were forecast for their intended route and at their destination. About 4 minutes before the accident, the pilot advised air traffic control personnel that "we are losing VFR, I need a deviation." Radio and radar contact were then lost.

A postaccident examination of the wreckage indicated that the airplane struck the top of a tree, rolled inverted, and impacted the ground. No preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation were noted. The only navigational charts found at the accident scene were folded VFR charts and airport facility directories. No IFR charts were found.

Analysis of the radar data and wreckage information revealed that the airplane made a series of erratic maneuvers, including a 360-degree heading change, before entering a descent and impacting the ground at high speed. These maneuvers took place in the last few minutes of the flight and were consistent with spatial disorientation. FAA guidance indicates that spatial disorientation can occur when there is no natural horizon or surface reference, such as a night flight in sparsely populated areas similar to that of the accident area and conditions. Although about 34 percent of the moon's disk was potentially illuminated at the time of the accident, given the cloud coverage in the area it is unlikely that the moon provided any illumination over the accident site. FAA guidance also indicates that spatial disorientation is more likely to occur if a pilot lacks proficiency in instrument flying.

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

The non-instrument rated pilot's improper decision to continue visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and subsequent in-flight collision with mountainous terrain.

Full narrative available

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