Maintaining proficiency for instrument flying goes beyond just taking an instrument proficiency flight with an instructor. It should include practice with the same types of instruments your "regular" airplane is equipped with—especially if you plan to actually fly under IFR.
On February 6, 2004, the pilot of a Cessna T206 was killed when the airplane hit Elk Mountain near Walcott, Wyoming, about 9 miles south of the pilot's intended route of flight along the Victor 6 airway. Both passengers survived the accident.
The day before the accident the pilot called flight service for several weather briefings and filed a VFR flight plan from Broomfield, Colorado, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The morning of the accident, the weather was marginal VFR, so the pilot delayed his departure from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The front seat passenger said that the weather appeared "good" initially, but as they flew north, the clouds got lower, so the pilot descended from 12,500 feet to 9,500 feet.
One hour into the flight, the pilot checked the weather again and then requested an IFR clearance for the duration of the flight. While communicating with Denver Center, the pilot made several incorrect radio calls, including telling ATC he was at 5,500 feet when he was actually at 9,500 feet, and that he was on the 320-degree radial from the Medicine Bow VOR when he was actually on the 140-degree radial.
Radar showed that the pilot then turned left to intercept the Medicine Bow 252-degree radial. ATC then asked him to turn right to rejoin Victor 6 (the 252-degree radial). The front seat passenger was holding the chart and noticed that the flight was crossing Interstate 80, but V6 was north of I-80 on the chart. When he questioned the pilot, the pilot didn't respond, but appeared "busy with the airplane's avionics." The Cessna traveled about 7.5 more miles in a southwest direction before hitting Elk Mountain, 9.5 miles south of V6.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident was the pilot not following proper IFR procedures for tracking a VOR radial while on an IFR flight plan in IMC conditions.
The instrument-rated private pilot had 339 hours of experience, with 6.6 hours in actual instrument conditions. He completed an instrument proficiency check on December 1, 2003 (two months prior to the accident in a different airplane), and had a mountain checkout on January 15, 2004, in the accident airplane.
The pilot took his proficiency check in a Cessna 182, which was equipped with a course deviation indicator (CDI) type VOR receiver, but the accident airplane was equipped with a horizontal situation indicator (HSI) type VOR receiver. It could not be determined how much experience/training the pilot had with an HSI. Because of the absence of any mechanical failures, the pilot's confusion while talking with Denver Center might indicate that he may have been struggling to read the HSI.
This accident illustrates that things can go south quickly—even for the most conscientious of pilots. On paper, this pilot did everything right—up until a point. He conducted a proficiency flight, a mountain checkout, he called for numerous weather briefings the day before the flight, and he called for in-flight weather updates.
It's important for instrument pilots to gain experience with the same kind of instruments they are planning to use during flight in IMC. This pilot may have had trouble flying with an HSI, and that may have led to his death.
For more information on how to manage single-pilot IFR operations, take AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Single-Pilot IFR Online Course , and read the Single-Pilot IFR Safety Advisor .
Accident reports can be found in ASF's accident database.
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