The determination to reach a destination, combined with hazardous weather, claims the lives of dozens of pilots and their passengers yearly. Sometimes, when pilots are waiting out cloud cover, the fact that it lifts from over the airport can mislead many to assume that conditions would be the same of the surrounding area. Such was the case of this Cessna 170 on May 17, 2002.
The non-instrument rated private pilot diverted on a long night cross-country flight due to bad weather. After arriving at his alternate airport, just after midnight, he made the decision to wait out the weather until morning. He called his wife and then checked with Flight Service for a weather update.
At about 0400, the pilot's wife received a call from Flight Service asking if the pilot returned home and forgot to close his flight plan. She told them that he did not, and a search and rescue was then initiated. The aircraft was located at 0730, fifteen miles west northwest of the Casper Airport.
Weather around the airport had lifted to scattered clouds at 1,100 feet, ceiling 2,000 feet overcast, and visibility 10 statute miles, by about 0200. The pilot departed just after 0230 and collided with rolling terrain soon after. The areas surrounding the airport were reported to be in heavy fog. The pilot had accumulated a total of 1,700 hours prior to this accident.
The NTSB determined the probable cause to be the pilot's inadvertent flight into adverse weather conditions, and loss of control due to disorientation from fog.
According to ASI's 2002 Nall Report, the number one cause of all weather related fatal accidents is attempted VFR into IMC. For more information about weather decision-making, read Bruce Landsberg's May 2000 "Safety Pilot article", "A Trip Not Taken" from AOPA Pilot magazine.
This accident report as well as others can be found in ASI's Online Database.