Incorrect altimeter settings lead to an off-airport “landing”

General Aviation News will often reprint US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident reports, including one dated January 2011 where incorrect altimeter settings during a night landing in a Cessna 172 in Clarendon (Texas) that led to serious injuries and substantial damage to the aircraft involved.  Altimeter According to the accident report, the pilot was attempting a night landing and he saw the airport’s rotating beacon. However, he was unable to activate the runway lights. Nevertheless, the pilot maneuvered the aircraft onto the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, extended the flaps, reduced engine power and pancaked into the ground about two and a half miles from the airport.

During the investigation, the pilot told investigators he was at 900 feet AGL when he hit the ground on terrain that was approximately 2,800 feet MSL while the altimeter at the crash site read 7,500 feet MSL. Had the altimeter been set correctly, it should have read 3,700 feet MSL at 900 feet AGL.

In the comments section, Vaughn S. Price made the suggestion:

…keep your cockpit lights low when making a dark field approach keep your eyes on your surroundings, then the altimeter reading would not dictate your actions.

In addition, Russell P Craig CFIAIG wrote that he experienced a similar situation when he was a younger pilot where the lights would not come on:

I remembered that some of the older pilots talked about lining up with some of the hangar lights when the runway lights didn’t work. I tryed that and when a barn an trees showed up in my landing lights I went around. Scared me and from that time on I always circled the airport at night to make sure where I was.

In other words, don’t rely entirely on your altimeter to tell you when you are flying at a safe altitude and try to circle the airport at least once if you are doing a night landing where there is no tower or ATC to guide you.

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