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A Little Skill Can Be Dangerous — Controlled Flight Into Terrain

Practice instrument flying ended here (arrow).

The Cessna 172 pilot was flying one of four aircraft rented by a group of tourists intent on a flying vacation in eastern Canada. He had over 1300 h flight time. Although he did not have an instrument rating, he had received extensive instrument-flight training in the past year. His copilot told friends that, on previous occasions, the pilot had deliberately entered cloud to demonstrate aircraft control with reference to the instruments only. The co-pilot had enjoyed the experience, and expressed confidence in the pilots abilities.

The group planned to fly from Sept Îles to Stephenville, with an en route stop in Natashquan. Each pilot had VFR maps and a global positioning system for navigation. Before departure, the leader had phoned the Sept-Îles FSS for a detailed weather briefing, and he later talked to the briefer in person at the airport. Weather in the area was generally VFR, but there was a low moving in from the south, bringing lower ceilings, rain and fog. The specialist advised that they recheck the weather during the refuelling stop at Natashquan. They filed a group flight plan and thoroughly discussed the weather.

After a pleasant flight, they refuelled in Natashquan as planned. The weather was clear and sunny; they could see for miles. Unfamiliar with the potential for maritime weather conditions to change rapidly, they did not bother to recheck the weather.

As they cruised along, approaching the Newfoundland coast, increasing cloud made it difficult to maintain contact with the ground and each other. They discussed the changing weather, but nobody called an FSS for the latest report.

Within sight of the west coast, the lead aircraft announced his position and his intent to descend. The group leader, who was flying in the number three position, could clearly see the west coast mountains in St. Pauls Inlet as he descended through 1000 ft. The steep terrain of the coastal inlet could be seen rising into the clouds. As he turned south to follow the two lead aircraft, he saw the trail aircraft enter cloud about 500 ft. higher up, still on the en route heading. He called the pilot, instructing him to turn right. His repeated calls got no response. The three remaining aircraft continued to within 33 mi. of their destination before being forced by the weather to return to Natashquan.

The trailing aircraft had impacted the coastal mountains in controlled flight. The pilot, his wife and the confident copilot were killed instantly. It is suspected that the pilot deliberately penetrated cloud to "practice his instrument skills." However, he had forgotten his navigation skills; he was obviously unaware of the deadly "cumulogranite" clouds directly in his path.

Originally Published: ASL 3/1997
Original Article: A Little Skill Can Be Dangerous - Controlled Flight Into Terrain

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