On February 22, 1998, about 2134 Alaska standard time, a ski equipped Piper PA-18 airplane, N1379A, sustained substantial damage during a collision with snow covered terrain, about 20 miles northwest of Tyonek, Alaska. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country personal flight when the accident occurred. The airplane was registered to, and operated by the pilot. The certificated private pilot, and the sole passenger, received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the intended destination of Soldotna, Alaska. The flight originated from a remote, off airport area near Iliamna, Alaska, about 1830.

During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), on February 25, 1998, at 0910, the pilot reported he departed for Soldotna as the first airplane in a flight of two airplanes. Prior to departure, the pilot placed a phone call to his wife in Soldotna, and inquired about the weather conditions. The pilot was told that scattered clouds were present in the area.

The two airplanes departed for Soldotna during dark night conditions. During the flight, a layer of clouds obscured the ground, and the two airplanes continued in VFR on-top conditions. About 1930, the pilot of the second airplane, N9086D, contacted the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), and requested assistance in locating the Kenai Municipal Airport, Kenai, Alaska. Air traffic controllers provided directions, flashing of runway lights at the Kenai Airport, and an aerial assist from another airplane, to lead N9086D down through the overcast and toward Kenai. Once the pilot of N9086D located Kenai, he elected to continue to the Soldotna Airport. Just before landing, the pilot advised the controllers that the accident airplane was also above the overcast without a functioning radio, but the passenger had a cellular phone.

The pilot of the accident airplane, N1379A, reported he climbed the airplane to between 10,000 and 11,000 feet mean sea level to remain above the clouds. The airplane was equipped with a turn and bank instrument, but did not have any instrument panel lighting. The airplane's radio was not functioning effectively to establish contact with an FAA facility. The pilot indicated he was using a flashlight to illuminate the instrument panel, but the bulb burned out. The pilot attempted to illuminate the panel with a cigarette lighter, but it soon ran dry of fluid. The pilot then attempted to gain illumination by sparking the flint of the lighter.

About 2030, the passenger in the airplane contacted the Anchorage ARTCC, via a cellular telephone, and requested assistance in getting down through the clouds. The pilot did not know his location, or the location of the nearest airport. The pilot, passenger, and FAA air traffic controllers, worked together for about 1 hour in an attempt to assist the flight. Air traffic controllers provided suggested compass headings, and an aerial assist from another airplane in the area, to lead the accident airplane toward the Beluga, Alaska, airstrip. About 2130, the airplane's engine ran out of fuel, and the pilot began a descent through the clouds. The pilot reported he attempted to maintain control of the airplane, but experienced two or three uncontrolled spins. As the airplane neared the ground, the passenger established visual contact with the ground, and yelled to the pilot. The pilot then pulled back on the control stick, and the airplane struck ground in an area of small hills.

Rescue personnel located the airplane on February 23, 1998.

The pilot holds a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. The pilot's certificate contains the limitation, "night flying prohibited." The pilot does not hold an instrument rating. The pilot holds a third class medical certificate that was issued on November 18, 1996, and contains the restriction that the pilot must wear corrective lenses for near and distant vision.

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