On January 2, 2011, about 1917 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-161, N42997, was destroyed following an in-flight collision with trees and terrain near Benton, Pennsylvania. The airplane was operated by Tech Aviation Flight School. The certificated private pilot sustained serious injuries. Night instrument meteorological conditions were present in the area, and no flight plan was filed for the solo instructional flight. The flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight originated at Williamsport, Pennsylvania (IPT) about 1900, and was destined for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport (AVP), Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

An inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration responded to the accident site and examined the wreckage. The airplane crashed in a remote, wooded area, about 32 nautical miles (nm) west of AVP, at an elevation of about 2,200 feet. He reported that the airplane was completely destroyed by fire. The cockpit and all flight instruments were burned beyond recognition. Both wings were torn from the fuselage and were found next to the fuselage.

A Pennsylvania State Patrolman responded to the accident site and spoke with the pilot. According to the patrolman, the pilot reported that he was trying to maneuver under a cloud when the accident occurred.

After recovering from his injuries, the pilot was interviewed by the NTSB investigator-in-charge on April 5, 2011. The pilot reported that he was on the return leg of a three-leg cross country, at night, with no flight plan filed, when he encountered clouds in his path. He considered climbing above the clouds, but was concerned that he would not be able to descend back down through them. He decided to go under the clouds, and misjudged the distance between the clouds and the ground. He "...just ran out of space." He did not see the ground or the trees before he crashed. He stated that there were no mechanical issues with the airplane during the flight.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land and instrument airplane ratings.

Weather, recorded at AVP at 1901, included winds from 340 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, sky broken at 2,600 feet, temperature 2 degrees C, dew point -3 degrees C, an altimeter setting of 29.96 inches Hg.

Weather, recorded at IPT at 1854, included winds from 290 degrees at 14 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, sky clear, temperature 2 degrees C, dew point -8 degrees C, an altimeter setting of 30.04 inches Hg. IPT was located about 22 nm west of the accident site.

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