Overloaded plane + cocky pilot = six fatalities

General Aviation News often reprints accident reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a recently reprinted report about an incident that occurred in the Huntington, West Virginia area is well worth reading by all general aviation pilots.  The incident involved a flight that was planned for five people aboard a Piper Seneca and on the day of the accident:

Another pilot, who originally was going to be on board but declined because of a scheduling conflict, asked the accident pilot, who had about 2,200 hours, if he had done a weight and balance check, obtained a weather briefing, and was planning to file a flight plan. The pilot stated that he had calculated the weight and balance and would obtain a briefing and file a flight plan from the airplane using his cellphone, however, there was no evidence that he did either. Because no flight plan was filed, the actual route of the flight was not determined. The intended flight was a cross-country trip over mountainous terrain.

Snow was forecast and IFR conditions were observed for en route areas for the time before, during, and after the flight.

During the flight, the pilot transmitted a “mayday” noting that he was flying VFR, was low on fuel and would need to land soon. However, the controller asked the pilot if he could fly instrument flight and even though he was not instrument rated, he responded by saying “yes.”

The reprint went into extensive detail about what happened next as the plane went off course several times and eventually crashed four miles from the airport in heavy snow. During the investigation though:

Investigators did weight and balance calculations using documents recovered at the site, the actual weights of the occupants, and the baggage recovered at the scene. Calculations revealed the airplane weighed about 4,902 pounds at takeoff, with a center of gravity at 98.4 inches aft of datum. The manufacturer’s maximum allowable gross weight was 4,570 pounds. The manufacturer’s center of gravity range at maximum gross weight was 90.6 to 95.0 inches aft of datum.

The investigation found no pre-crash instrument or mechanical malfunctions and ruled that the probable cause was the pilot’s failure to “perform adequate preflight planning and to use available in-flight resources in a timely manner and his decision to continue VFR flight in IMC despite his lack of an instrument rating and proficiency in instrument flying, which resulted in spatial disorientation and impact with terrain.”

The whole accident report is well worth reading given the lessons it offers to general aviation pilots.


One Response to Overloaded plane + cocky pilot = six fatalities

  1. Cliff Stanford January 26, 2011 at 19:46 #

    I'm not sure why you focus on the weight and balance issues. The plane was less than 10% overweight and, although fairly badly rear weighted, this would not have been an issue until he came to land.

    The NTSB is clear: these points are not even factors in the probable cause. Instead, they blame the pilot's lack of planning and his decision to fly VFR in IMC. He clearly suffered from pressure overload and, his initial inability to maintain a heading and an altitude, together with his worries about running out of fuel meant he was eventually no longer able to fly the plane. It's that, obscurely called by the NTSB, "Personnel issues-Action/decision-Info processing/decision-Decision making/judgment" that ultimately caused the crash.

    Of course though, you're right: less cockiness and more planning and he wouldn't have been there for the accident to happen.

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