Although ASI advocates instrument pilots maintaining proficiency, we ask that simulated instrument flight be done in accordance with the FAR's. On October 27, 2001, a Cessna T337G pilot proved what not to do when he struck a mountain and was killed while practicing instrument procedures at night over Palmer Lake, Colorado.
On the day of the accident the sunset was at 6:04 p.m. local time, and the end of civil twilight was recorded at 6:32 p.m. Just after 7 p.m. the pilot contacted Denver TRACON and indicated that he would be airborne for "a couple of hours" practicing various approaches.
The pilot completed two approaches and then requested two turns in the holding pattern before flying the third approach. During the inbound leg of the first turn in the pattern, the pilot descended 1,400 feet from his assigned altitude without ATC intervention. After the hold, the pilot requested to depart to the southeast to "get out of the way of the approach course for awhile." The pilot also requested an altitude of 8,500 feet. His direction of flight and altitude were both cleared by ATC. No mention of visual flight rules or changing of the squawk code was made by the controller.
Shortly thereafter, the pilot made a turn towards rising terrain. No warnings were provided to the pilot by ATC after this maneuver. The aircraft wreckage was found on the mountainside near the position where radar contact was lost.
According to the pilot's wife, the purpose of the flight was to practice instrument approaches to prepare for an instrument proficiency check. She frequently flew with him as his safety pilot, but he indicated that he wanted to fly alone for this flight. The pilot told her that he would not be wearing a vision restricting device, but instead would "turn his cabin lights up bright" to restrict his external vision.
The NTSB determined the cause of this crash to be the pilot intentionally restricting his external vision (by turning his cabin lights up bright to practice night instrument approaches) and his subsequent failure to maintain clearance from the mountain. A contributing factor was the controller's failure to provide appropriate safety alerts for rising terrain.
FAR Part 91.109 (b) states, "No person shall operate an aircraft in simulated instrument conditions unless the other control seat is occupied by a safety pilot who possesses at least a private pilot certificate with category and class ratings appropriate to the aircraft being flown."
The controller's responsibilities for this flight are dictated under the definition of "Additional Services" in the Air Traffic Control Handbook.
"Advisory information provided by ATC which includes but is not limited to the following: traffic advisories; vectors, when requested by the pilot; altitude deviation information of 300 feet or more from an assigned altitude as observed on a verified automatic altitude readout (Mode C); advisories that traffic is no longer a factor; weather and chaff information; weather assistance; bird activity information and holding pattern surveillance."
"Additional services are provided to the extent possible contingent upon the controller's capability to fit them into the performance of higher priority duties and on the basis of limitations of radar, volume of traffic, frequency congestion, and controller workload."
At 1957, the pilot requested to proceed 15 miles southeast at 8,500 feet. The ATC controller cleared him, but did not terminate radar services. FAA Order 7110.65, paragraph 7-6-1 (Basic Radar Services), and paragraph 2-6-1 (Safety Alerts) requires the controller to provide:
"Basic radar services are provided for VFR aircraft by all commissioned terminal radar facilities and include safety alerts, traffic advisories, and limited radar vectoring when requested by the pilot."
"Issue a safety alert to an aircraft if you are aware the aircraft is in a position/altitude, which, in your judgment, places it in unsafe proximity to terrain, obstructions, or other aircraft."
Radar data indicates that the pilot flew south approximately 8 nm, and then turned to approximately 210 degrees and flew directly into rising terrain, with no controller advisories.
While ATC could have prevented this accident, it was the pilot's responsibility to see and avoid the terrain. When practicing instrument procedures always follow the regulations. Always have a safety pilot on board.
This accident report as well as others can be found in ASI's Online Database.