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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: CEN16FA054
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, December 06, 2015 in Keytesville, MO
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/20/2017
Aircraft: CESSNA 140, registration: N90123
Injuries: 2 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 and one passenger departed at an unknown time from an unknown location into dark night conditions that were forecast to be marginal visual flight rules to instrument flight rules conditions. A witness observed the airplane circling overhead, and stated that the appearance of the airplane's exterior lights suggested that it was flying in clouds or fog. During the airplane's third orbit, the exterior lights became brighter as it descended out of the clouds, then abruptly descended to ground contact. An examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane.

The pilot's logbooks were not recovered, and his total flight experience could not be determined. The pilot had a history of substance abuse and dependence involving methamphetamine, including multiple arrests and convictions related to drug use. However, he was reportedly in recovery at the time of his last medical examination in 2012. Toxicological testing on the pilot was positive for methamphetamine and its metabolite, amphetamine, at levels which suggested recreational use. Symptoms of recreational methamphetamine use follow a typical pattern. In the early phase, users experience euphoria, excitation, exhilaration, hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, increased alertness, a heightened sense of well-being, and poor impulse control. All of the symptoms caused by high doses of methamphetamine are impairing, but the fact that the noninstrument-rated pilot chose to take off without a weather briefing at night and flew into low clouds before losing control indicates the pilot was deliberately attempting a flight beyond his capabilities. Consistent with his very highly elevated blood levels, this suggests his poor decision-making was influenced by the euphoria and grandiosity conferred by the early phase effects of methamphetamine. Witness observations of the airplane circling in clouds or fog then descending to ground contact suggest that the impaired pilot most likely experienced spatial disorientation and a subsequent loss of airplane control.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The non-instrument-rated pilot's decision to operate in dark night conditions with low clouds, which resulted in a loss of control due to spatial disorientation. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's use of methamphetamine, which impaired his decision-making abilities.