Cessna 182 Skylane
Louisburg, North Carolina/Injuries: 3 Fatal
The private pilot had planned to conduct a personal, instrument flight rules (IFR) flight in night instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The clearance that the pilot received from air traffic control stipulated that after departure, the airplane was to turn about 50° left of the runway heading. Radar data showed that the airplane instead climbed along the departure runway heading for about 1 minute, and witnesses described that the airplane entered IMC around 200 to 300 feet above the ground. When the airplane reached an altitude of about 860 ft above ground level (agl), it entered a right turn. The airplane reached the top of its climb about 930 ft agl, and continued a tightening right turn while descending at an estimated rate of about 6,000 feet per minute. The pilot did not contact air traffic control and radar contact was lost in the vicinity of the accident site. Postaccident examination of the airplane revealed no preimpact mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.
About 1 hour before the airplane departed, the pilot obtained an online weather briefing from a commercial vendor. The information in the briefing indicated that the airplane would be operating in IFR conditions with severe turbulence reported along the anticipated route of flight. The restricted visibility and low-level instrument meteorological conditions at night were conducive to the development of spatial disorientation. In addition, the airplane’s flight track, which included altitude and directional changes that were inconsistent with the flight’s clearance instructions, and the rapidly descending right turn, were consistent with the known effects of spatial disorientation. It is likely that the pilot developed spatial disorientation during the flight, which led to a loss of control.
A sedating, over-the-counter antihistamine (Cetirizine) was found in postaccident toxicology specimens taken from the pilot; however, the levels of the drug measured were three times below the therapeutic level. Additionally, ethanol was also detected in the some of the pilot’s blood specimens but was not detected in the pilot’s brain or muscle specimens. As a result, the ethanol detected was most likely from sources other than ingestion; thus, the pilot’s use of cetirizine and the identified ethanol did not contribute to this accident.
Probable cause(s): The pilot’s spatial disorientation and loss of airplane control following takeoff in night instrument meteorological conditions.
Note: The report republished here is from the NTSB and is printed verbatim and in its complete form.