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 commercial pilot and one passenger departed on a cross-country flight in dark night visual meteorological conditions to return to their home airport. The pilot established contact with air traffic control (ATC) and climbed the airplane to a cruise altitude of 7,500 ft mean sea level (msl) over sparsely-populated, desert terrain. About 40 minutes into the flight, an ATC controller advised the pilot that the airplane would be passing through an area of known poor radar coverage and that radar contact would be reestablished in several minutes. The pilot acknowledged. Radar data indicated that radar contact was lost for about 7 minutes then was reestablished for about 1 minute before contact was lost again at an altitude of 7,400 ft msl. About 10 minutes after the final loss of radar contact, the ATC controller attempted to advise the pilot that radar contact had not yet been restored; however, the pilot did not respond, and subsequent attempts to contact the pilot were unsuccessful. Despite the loss of radar contact, the pilot would have been able to contact ATC via radio throughout this area; there were no distress calls from the accident airplane. The wreckage was located the next day about 0.4 nm from the airplane's last radar return.
The wreckage was heavily fragmented, consistent with a high-speed impact. Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.
A family member reported that the pilot had an appointment scheduled at home the next day, so he likely felt some pressure to make the flight even though he typically did not fly at night. Although the pilot was instrument-rated, review of his personal logbook revealed no evidence of recent night or instrument flight experience. Autopsy and toxicology testing did not reveal any evidence of a medical condition that would have affected the pilot's ability to operate the airplane safely. The dark night conditions, lack of ground lighting in the area of the accident site, and the pilot's lack of recent night and instrument flight experience would have increased the pilot's susceptibility to spatial disorientation, which could have contributed to a loss of control; however, based on the lack of available information about the airplane's final moments of flight, a reason for the loss of control could not be determined.