Spatial disorientation kills two in a Piper

General Aviation News will often reprint excerpts or summaries from US Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), including one from a February 2010 accident report that involved a Piper Malibu in Belleville (Illinois) and led to two fatalities.

Apparently, the pilot had flown to an airport in order to receive training in the Malibu and specifically, much of the training time was to be spent on operating the Garmin GPS installed in the aircraft. According to the CFI providing the training, the pilot had problems with the pilot interface of the GPS initially. Nevertheless and upon completion of the training, the pilot had met the requirements of the Private Pilot/Instrument Rating Practical Test Standards and the CFI endorsed the pilot’s logbook for an “Instrument Proficiency Check.” The pilot then began a flight back to his home airport on an IFR flight plan in IMC at night.

Twice during the approach to the home airport, the pilot was advised by the controller that the aircraft was to the right of the approach course. The controller suggested a left turn of 5° to 7° and once the aircraft was back on the inbound course, he instructed the pilot to contact a tower controller.

However, the pilot never contacted the tower controller and executed a missed approach. He then reestablished contact with the approach controller who provided radar vectors for a second attempt at the ILS approach. The pilot also said that he was having problems with his autopilot but later on he stated that these problems had been resolved.

During the second approach, the controller advised the pilot that the aircraft was to the right of the approach course. He also issued a low altitude alert and the aircraft started a climb plus a turn back toward the inbound course. The controller then advised the pilot that he would intercept the inbound course at the outer marker for the approach. He also asked if the pilot would like to abort and try again but the pilot responded by saying that he would continue the approach.

There were no further transmissions from the pilot. The aircraft crashed into a building and burst into flames about 0.4 nautical miles from the outer marker.

An investigation of the accident noted the aircraft’s turning ground track along with the challenging visibility conditions at the time could have caused the pilot to suffer from spatial disorientation.

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