NTSB Identification: ERA12FA151
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, January 22, 2012 in Quincy, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/29/2013
Aircraft: CESSNA 150G, registration: N73JK
Injuries: 1 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 landed after sunset, refueled the airplane, and took off again about 1 1/2 hours later. A witness, who was in his hangar, did not see the takeoff but heard the engine operate "normally" and noted that fog was developing at the airport at the time. The airplane took off to the southeast, with the destination airport to the east. However, the wreckage path and the accident location indicated that the airplane turned toward the northwest, consistent with flying a downwind leg to return to the departure airport. The airplane subsequently impacted and descended through trees at a relatively shallow angle, with the right wing initially down about 45 degrees. Both propeller and tree impact evidence indicated that the airplane was under power at the time. There was no evidence of any preexisting mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal airplane operation.

Autopsy results for the pilot indicated severe heart disease with 90 percent blockage of one artery. However, there was no evidence of an acute heart attack, and the degree of cardiac dysfunction or whether it affected the flight could not be determined; no other debilitating condition was found. Toxicology results revealed the presence of an antidepressant that could have caused dizziness, but low postmortem levels indicated an unlikelihood of impairment. It is unknown why the pilot took off in the deteriorating weather conditions. His attempt to return to the airport rather than climb out toward his destination indicated that once airborne, he was not confident in his ability to complete the flight. During the return attempt, the pilot likely became spatially disoriented in the dark, foggy conditions, which then resulted in his inability to maintain controlled flight.

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

The non-instrument-rated pilot’s spatial disorientation in night instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in his inability to maintain controlled flight. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s improper decision to take off in deteriorating meteorological conditions.

Full narrative available

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