NTSB Identification: ERA13LA019
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Charlotte Amalie, VI
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/12/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-23-250, registration: N5553Y
Injuries: 3 Fatal,1 Serious.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The accident airplane departed over water on a dark night and flew toward its destination airport at an altitude of about 1,700 feet above the water. Radar data showed that the airplane began a gradual descent on about the same heading before it leveled off at 200 feet above the water. The airplane continued at 200 feet above the water for another 18 seconds before its radar target disappeared about 5 miles from the destination airport.

The surviving passenger stated that she had flown with the pilot on this flight many times before. She stated that during the en route portion of the accident flight, the pilot flew progressively lower to "get under the weather." The passenger stated that she could see lights on the shore near the destination airport, and could see that it was raining. She recalled light turbulence and observed the pilot make his "usual" radio call. She next remembered the airplane "hitting a wall," and the airplane filled with water. She said that the pilot broke the window on his side of the airplane, and that she and the pilot egressed through it. She did not see any of the other occupants of the airplane after that. When asked if she noticed anything unusual with the flight or if the pilot provided any warning before striking the water, the passenger said no, and indicated that everything was normal.

Examination of the wreckage revealed damage consistent with a high-speed, shallow-angle impact with water, and no evidence of preimpact mechanical anomalies.

Weather data and imagery were consistent with the passenger’s account of flying beneath outer rain bands associated with a developing tropical storm southeast of the accident site. There was little to no illumination from the moon. Based on a search of flight service and commercial vendor records, the pilot did not obtain a weather briefing or file a flight plan before the accident flight.

The destination airport was tower-controlled, but the tower was closed at the time of the accident. The runway was located along the shore, with the approach end surrounded by water on three sides. Multiple instrument approach procedures were available for the airport; however, those instrument approaches were not authorized while the tower was closed. A caution printed in the plan view of the approach charts stated, "CAUTION: Pilots may encounter false illusory indications during night approaches to Runway 10 when using outside visual cues for vertical guidance."

It is likely that the pilot descended the airplane to remain clear of the lowering clouds and descended into the water due to the lack of visual cues.

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

The pilot's attempted visual flight rules (VFR) flight into marginal VFR conditions on a dark night over water and his failure to maintain sufficient altitude, which resulted in the airplane’s controlled flight into water. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's inadequate preflight weather planning.

Full narrative available

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