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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: ERA16LA106
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, February 12, 2016 in Destin, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/23/2017
Aircraft: PIPER PA28, registration: N2209W
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

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 private pilot was flying along a shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico in dark night conditions, with a tailwind, on an extended left base leg for landing at the airport. Witnesses reported the pilot announced a go-around on the airport's common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). Radar track data depicted the airplane crossing the approach end of the runway and then turning upwind on the far side of the runway. The airplane continued in a left circuit around the airport, and its altitude varied between 500 and 700 ft above ground level.

Radar then depicted a left turn in a location consistent with a left base turn for a second attempt at landing; however, the airplane stopped its turn early and flew through the final approach course a second time as it tracked parallel to the coast. Instead of completing another left circuit around the airport, the airplane turned right, away from the lighted airport and out over open, dark water with no visible horizon. The last radar targets showed the airplane over the water in a descending right turn toward the airport, with the last target at 175 ft above the water, and 128 knots groundspeed.

A witness, who was monitoring the CTAF as he approached the airport in his own airplane, reported that he heard the accident pilot announce his positions as he circumnavigated the airport. The pilot's last radio call announced he would be "circling somewhere." There were no further communications from the accident airplane.A postaccident examination of the airframe and engine revealed no preimpact mechanical anomalies that would have prevented normal operation of the airplane.

The tailwind encountered on the base leg of the traffic pattern likely contributed to the pilot flying the airplane through the final approach course on two consecutive approaches. The rapid turn and descent at low altitude away from the lighted airport at night, over dark water, with no visible horizon, was consistent with the noninstrument-rated pilot experiencing spatial disorientation and a loss of airplane control.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The noninstrument-rated pilot's decision to turn the airplane away from the lighted airport at low altitude, over water, with no visible horizon, in dark night conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and a loss of airplane control.