NTSB Identification: WPR12FA031
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, November 06, 2011 in Lake Havasu City, AZ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/07/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA 182Q, registration: N4701N
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 was flying home after watching a football game. Because the game continued into overtime, the flight home occurred later than the pilot expected and involved flying at night. The pilot had obtained a weather briefing earlier that morning and was aware that a storm was due to arrive in the area about the time the return flight took place. At the time of the accident, visual meteorological weather conditions existed at all area airports; however, it was raining and clouds were present at the pilot’s intended cruise altitude during portions of the return flight.

According to global positioning system data, the flight appeared to progress normally until about halfway along the planned route when the airplane suddenly descended about 1,000 feet, presumably to avoid clouds. A short time later, the airplane began a series of altitude and airspeed oscillations, which ultimately resulted in a rapidly descending turn into terrain. The debris field length and orientation were consistent with a loss of airplane control, with the airplane striking the ground inverted and at high speed. All sections of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site, and postaccident examination did not reveal any mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

The pilot had flown the same route at night on four previous occasions, the most recent of which was 2 weeks before the accident; however, clear skies and unlimited visibilities existed for each of the previous flights. According to weather data, on the night of the accident, the moon was obscured by cloud, and therefore would have provided no visual reference. In addition, most of the accident flight occurred over uninhabited desert terrain, so limited ground references would have been available.

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

The pilot's continued cruise flight into cloudy conditions at night, which resulted in a loss of airplane control due to spatial disorientation.

Full narrative available

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