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Ducking UnderDucking Under

FTW02FA095 FTW02FA095 

VFR flight into IMC continues its reign as one of the most deadly accident categories in general aviation. Flights where the pilot chooses to 'scud run' can sometimes fall into this category. Add a dark night to the equation, and it equals disaster.

On March 12, 2002, a non-instrument rated private pilot of a Piper Arrow and his passenger were killed after impacting terrain near Marianna, Arkansas.

The pilot contacted flight service for an en route briefing for a flight from Little Rock, Arkansas to Tunica, Mississippi. Weather over the route was IFR, with visibilities between 2 and 5 miles and ceilings between 900 and 2,600 feet broken to overcast. During the briefing the pilot made two separate comments indicating he was fully aware of the low ceilings and that he needed to stay low. He said "Gonna head over to Tunica, VFR. I'll be scudding it, it looks like." The pilot was also informed of an airmet for IFR conditions that prevailed over the route of flight.

The Arrow departed Little Rock at 6:12 pm central time. At 6:36 pm, the last radar contact with the aircraft showed it at an altitude of 2,000 feet. The airplane was reported missing the next day. It was found destroyed three days later on March 16, 14 nautical miles west of the Tunica Municipal airport in the St. Francis National Forest.

The pilot's most recent medical application indicated approximately 350 hours total time, and 75 hours in the accident airplane.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's continued flight into adverse weather conditions and his failure to maintain clearance with terrain while maneuvering. Factors included the low clouds and mist, as well as the dark night conditions.

This pilot knew what he was getting into before he departed. He got a briefing, and then made the conscious decision to disregard what he had been told. Flawed decision-making is the underlying cause of this accident.

Accidents involved with scud running, and VFR flight into IMC are almost always fatal. They are also easily preventable. Pilots that do not possess an instrument rating should steer clear of IFR weather, and realize the inherent dangers of flying low to the ground - especially in less than perfect visual conditions. The only safe way to fly in the clouds is to have a current instrument rating.

For more information about IFR regulations, weather, and scud running, see the following resources on ASF's Web site,

  • IFR Adventure: Rules to Live By, an online program that teaches the basics of IFR regulations
  • SkySpotter ®, an online program that explores the interaction of pireps and the national weather system and,
  • "Why VFR into IMC", Bruce Landsberg's January, 2004 Safety Pilot article from AOPA Pilot magazine.

This accident report as well as others can be found in ASF's Online Database.

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