VFR flight into IMC: Never a good idea
VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) continues to be a leading cause of fatal general aviation accidents. In 2005, nearly 75 percent of all fatal weather-related accidents resulted from this.
On October 13, 2005, after waiting four days for the weather to improve, the pilot of a Cessna 150 departed Deer Run Airpark in New Castle, Kentucky, for a VFR cross-country flight to Berkley, South Carolina. One hour and twenty minutes into the flight, the Cessna hit Pine Mountain near Pineville, Kentucky. The pilot was killed and the airplane was destroyed.
The pilot had called Louisville Flight Service at 1:07 p.m., and requested a weather briefing for the VFR flight with a stop in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The briefer provided current and forecast reports for the flight, and informed the pilot several times that "VFR flight was not recommended due to mountain obscuration."
At 1:45 pm, the pilot contacted the Lexington tower and requested VFR flight following to Hendersonville. At 2:05 p.m., the pilot was advised that he was 41 miles south of the Blue Grass Airport, and radar services were terminated. The flight continued on a southeast heading at an altitude of 2,200 feet. The last radar record was at 2:49 p.m., three miles from the accident site.
The wreckage was found on Pine Mountain at 2,360 feet - just 200 feet from the summit. Ceilings in the area were reported between 1,900 and 2,300 overcast. A police officer, who responded to the accident, said that the "fog remained low in the valley much longer than usual," and that it was "very thick."
The pilot held an airplane transport pilot certificate for airplane multiengine land with type ratings in the B-727, C-500, DC-9, and Learjet. He also held a commercial certificate for airplane single-engine land. In February of 2005, the pilot reported almost 17,000 hours total time.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's continued VFR flight into IMC, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain.
A quick look at the Cincinnati Sectional shows maximum elevation figures (MEFs) ranging from 2,000 feet to 3,800 feet over the pilot's route of flight. MEFs are found on VFR sectional charts and represent the elevation of the highest obstacle in the quadrangle. When planning a cross-country flight, especially one where low ceilings are involved, pilots should check the MEFs along their route, and fly above them to ensure obstacle clearance. If terrain and cloud clearances can't be maintained, the flight should be cancelled.
For more information on how to find obstacle clearances on different charts, read the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Terrain Avoidance Plan.
Accident reports can be found in ASF's accident database.
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