Pilot Became Distracted During Operations In Inclement Weather
We had to kind of dig back into the archives for this one, but it still serves as a cautionary tale in support of a sterile cockpit.
According to the NTSB, on May 31, 2014, at 0022 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 150K airplane, N6275G, impacted terrain 2 miles west of the Front Range Airport (KFTG), near Watkins, Colorado. The instrument rated pilot and one passenger were fatally injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed for the flight, which did not operate on a flight plan. The local flight originated from FTG at 0018.
The airplane was reported missing about 0330. Front Range Airport personnel located the wreckage about 0730 in a wheat field about 2 miles west-northwest of the airport. There were no witnesses to the accident. The pilot was not in contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC), but the flight path was captured on radar. The airplane impacted the field with the left wing first, bounced one time and came to rest upright. An onboard image recorder (GoPro) was found in the wreckage and its data card was reviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Vehicle Recorders Laboratory. The video revealed that the camera recorded the events prior to the accident; however, the accident sequence was not recorded.
In its probable cause report the NTSB said that An onboard recording device (GoPro) was found near the wreckage and the files were recovered. Based on the available information, it is likely that the GoPro files were recorded on May 30 and May 31, 2014, with the final GoPro file recorded during the 6-minute flight in the traffic pattern. The accident flight was not recorded. The GoPro recordings revealed that the pilot and various passengers were taking self-photographs with their cell phones and, during the night flight, using the camera’s flash function during the takeoff roll, initial climb, and flight in the traffic pattern.
A postaccident examination of the airplane did not reveal any preimpact anomalies that would have precluded normal operation. Based on the wreckage distribution, which was consistent with a high-speed impact, and the degraded visual reference conditions, it is likely that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation and lost control of the airplane. The evidence is consistent with an aerodynamic stall and subsequent spin into terrain.
Based on the evidence of cell phone use during low-altitude maneuvering, including the flight immediately before the accident flight, it is likely that cell phone use during the accident flight distracted the pilot and contributed to the development of spatial disorientation and subsequent loss of control. A review of the pilot’s logbooks did not show that he met the currency requirements for flight in instrument meteorological conditions or night flight with passengers.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot’s loss of control and subsequent aerodynamic stall due to spatial disorientation in night instrument meteorological conditions. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s distraction due to his cell phone use while maneuvering at low-altitude.