Monday, July 11, 2016

Cessna 172F Skyhawk, N7870U: Fatal accident occurred July 04, 2016 in Brookings, Oregon

John Luke Belnap

Ryan Merker and Maxel Jed Belnap


The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Hillsboro, Oregon

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf 

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

http://registry.faa.gov/aN7870U 

Location: Brookings, OR
Accident Number: WPR16LA138
Date & Time: 07/04/2016, 2300 PDT
Registration: N7870U
Aircraft: CESSNA 172
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Collision during takeoff/land
Injuries: 3 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

Analysis 

The non-instrument-rated pilot departed for the third leg of a cross-country flight in the airplane during dark (moonless) night conditions. The departure path was toward the ocean and over an area with few ground-based light sources to provide visual cues. A witness heard an airplane flying nearby and assumed that it was taking off from the airport. As the airplane continued, he heard a reduction in engine power, like a pilot throttling back while landing. According to the witness, the engine did not sputter. Review of the recorded radar data showed that the airplane turned left shortly after takeoff and climbed to about 700 ft above ground level as it passed near the witness's location. The airplane did not arrive at its destination, and a search was initiated. The wreckage of the airplane was found in ocean waters about 2 miles west of the departure airport. Although visual meteorological conditions prevailed, no natural horizon and few external visual references were available during the departure. This required the pilot to monitor the flight instruments to maintain awareness of the airplane's attitude and altitude. Given the lack of external visual cues and the the pilot's lack of recent night flight experience and his lack of an instrument rating, it is likely that the pilot became spatially disorientated during the departing left turn.

The main wreckage was not recovered. Therefore, it could not be determined whether any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or anomalies were present.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness during the departure turn in dark night conditions, which resulted in an in-flight collision with water.

Findings

Personnel issues
Spatial disorientation - Pilot (Cause)
Situational awareness - Pilot (Cause)

Environmental issues
Dark - Effect on personnel (Cause)

Factual Information

History of Flight

Initial climb
Collision during takeoff/land (Defining event)

On July 4, 2016, about 2300 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172F, N7870U, impacted the Pacific Ocean shortly after takeoff from Brookings Airport (BOK), Brookings, Oregon. The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to Cessna 7870U, LLC, and was operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the third leg of the cross-country flight, and no flight plan was filed. The destination was Grants Pass Airport, Grants Pass, Oregon.

According to the co-owner of the airplane, on the morning of the accident, the pilot departed from Hollister Municipal Airport (CVH), Hollister, California. According to airport documentation and a fuel receipt, he refueled at Rohnerville Airport (FOT), Fortuna, California, that afternoon before continuing to BOK, where he landed about 1430. The pilot did not report to the co-owner any problems with the airplane during that flight.

A witness located about 1.5 miles west of BOK and near the ocean shoreline, reported that around the time of the accident, he heard an airplane flying nearby and assumed that it was taking off from BOK. As the airplane continued, he heard a reduction in engine power, like a pilot throttling back while landing, but he could not remember whether it stopped before it went out of hearing range. He further stated that the engine did not sputter.

Review of the recorded radar data depicted that the airplane turned left to a west heading shortly after takeoff and then climbed to about 700 ft above the ground as it neared the ocean shoreline. The area was sparsely populated. The last recorded radar target was near the witness's location, west of BOK, and about 1.5 miles southeast of where personal effects from the occupants of the airplane were found washed ashore.

Information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that the pilot's family contacted local authorities after they became concerned when the pilot did not arrive at his intended destination. The FAA subsequently issued an alert notification that was then cancelled on July 7 after personal effects from the occupants of the airplane were found washed ashore on the beach about 3 miles northwest of BOK. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 46, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 01/13/2014
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:   207 hours (Total, all aircraft), 207 hours (Total, this make and model) 

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. He did not hold an instrument rating. He was issued an FAA third-class airman medical certificate on January 13, 2014, with the limitation that he must wear corrective lenses. According to the pilot's logbook, he had accumulated 207 total flight hours, all of which were in the accident airplane. The last entry recorded in the pilot's logbook was dated March 7, 2016, and was for a cross-country trip with a total duration of 13.87 flight hours of which 3 hours were at night. No other night flight time was recorded in the 6 months before the accident. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: CESSNA
Registration: N7870U
Model/Series: 172 F
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1964
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 17251870
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 11/11/2015, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2299 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines:  1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 4372 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: CONT MOTOR
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-300 SER
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 145 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Does Business As:
Operator Designator Code: 

The four-seat, high-wing airplane, serial number (S/N) 17251870, was manufactured in France in 1964 as a flight training airplane for the United States Air Force. It was powered by a Continental Motors O-300 engine. Review of the maintenance records showed that the engine was overhauled on November 15, 2013, at a total operating time of 4,372 hours. The last annual inspection was completed on November 11, 2015, at which time the engine had accumulated a total of 279 hours since the overhaul. 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night/Dark
Observation Facility, Elevation: KBOK, 459 ft msl
Observation Time: 0556 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 3 Nautical Miles
Direction from Accident Site: 114°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Temperature/Dew Point: 13°C / 9°C
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm
Visibility (RVR):
Altimeter Setting: 30.06 inches Hg
Visibility (RVV):
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: BROOKINGS, OR (BOK)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: GRANTS PASS, OR (3S8)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1100 PDT
Type of Airspace: Unknown 

The nearest weather reporting station was BOK. According to recorded information, at 2256, the weather conditions were winds calm, visibility 10 statute miles or greater, sky clear, temperature 13°C, dew point 09°C, and an altimeter setting of 30.06 inches of mercury.

According to the Astronomical Applications Department of the United States Naval Observatory, the official sunset was at 2056; the official end of civil twilight was at 2130; and the official moonset was 2104.

Airport Information

Airport: BROOKINGS (BOK)
Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 462 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 30
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 2900 ft / 60 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: None 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 2 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 3 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude:  42.078889, -124.333333

The main wreckage was identified in high current waters about 2 miles west of BOK and was not recovered. The search and rescue efforts continued for over 30 days until the occupants were recovered. The nose landing gear assembly and seat foam were the only airplane parts recovered. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Oregon State Police Morgue, Oregon State Police Headquarters, Central Point, Oregon, performed an autopsy of the pilot. The cause of death was reported as severe blunt trauma.

The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology testing that identified ethanol at 0.041 gm/dl in cavity blood and 0.017 gm/dl in urine. In addition, N-propanol was identified in cavity blood and urine. Ethanol is the intoxicant found in beer, wine, and liquor. Ethanol may also be produced in postmortem tissues by microbial action; when this occurs other alcohols such as N-propanol may also be formed. 

Additional Information

Spatial Disorientation

According to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3), "night flying is very different from day flying and demands more attention of the pilot. The most noticeable difference is the limited availability of outside visual references. Therefore, flight instruments should be used to a greater degree.… Generally, at night it is difficult to see clouds and restrictions to visibility, particularly on dark nights or under overcast. The pilot flying under [visual flight rules] VFR must exercise caution to avoid flying into clouds or a layer of fog." The handbook described some hazards associated with flying in airplanes under VFR when visual references, such as the ground or horizon, are obscured. The handbook states that, "the vestibular sense (motion sensing by the inner ear) in particular tends to confuse the pilot. Because of inertia, the sensory areas of the inner ear cannot detect slight changes in the attitude of the airplane, nor can they accurately sense attitude changes that occur at a uniform rate over a period of time. On the other hand, false sensations are often generated; leading the pilot to believe the attitude of the airplane has changed when in fact, it has not. These false sensations result in the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation."



NTSB Identification: WPR16LA138
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, July 04, 2016 in Brookings, OR
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N7870U
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 4, 2016, about 2300 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172F, N7870U, impacted the Pacific Ocean shortly after takeoff from Brookings Airport (BOK), Brookings, Oregon. The private pilot and two passengers were presumed to have been fatally injured; the search for the airplane continues. The airplane was registered to Cessna 7870U, LLC, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from BOK about 2300, with a destination of Grants Pass Airport, Grants Pass, Oregon.

Information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), revealed that the family of the pilot contacted local authorities after they became concerned when the pilot had not arrived at his intended destination. The FAA subsequently issued an Alert Notification, which was then cancelled on July 7, after airplane wreckage was found washed up on shore 3 miles northwest of BOK.

Review of the recorded radar data depicted that the airplane turned left shortly after takeoff, and then climbed westward to about 700 feet above the ground. The last recorded radar target was about 1 mile west of BOK, and less than 2 miles southeast from where the airplane wreckage was found.

A witness located 1 1/2 miles west of BOK reported that during the time of the accident, he heard an airplane flying nearby and assumed that it was taking off from the airport. He thought it was unusual for an airplane to be flying that late in the evening. As the airplane continued, he heard the engine slowdown in speed but couldn't remember whether it stopped or went out of hearing range.
John Luke Belnap

Ryan Merker and Maxel Jed Belnap


The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Hillsboro, Oregon

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf 

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

http://registry.faa.gov/aN7870U 

Location: Brookings, OR
Accident Number: WPR16LA138
Date & Time: 07/04/2016, 2300 PDT
Registration: N7870U
Aircraft: CESSNA 172
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Collision during takeoff/land
Injuries: 3 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On July 4, 2016, about 2300 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172F, N7870U, impacted the Pacific Ocean shortly after takeoff from Brookings Airport (BOK), Brookings, Oregon. The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to Cessna 7870U, LLC, and was operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the third leg of the cross-country flight, and no flight plan was filed. The destination was Grants Pass Airport, Grants Pass, Oregon.

According to the co-owner of the airplane, on the morning of the accident, the pilot departed from Hollister Municipal Airport (CVH), Hollister, California. According to airport documentation and a fuel receipt, he refueled at Rohnerville Airport (FOT), Fortuna, California, that afternoon before continuing to BOK, where he landed about 1430. The pilot did not report to the co-owner any problems with the airplane during that flight.

A witness located about 1.5 miles west of BOK and near the ocean shoreline, reported that around the time of the accident, he heard an airplane flying nearby and assumed that it was taking off from BOK. As the airplane continued, he heard a reduction in engine power, like a pilot throttling back while landing, but he could not remember whether it stopped before it went out of hearing range. He further stated that the engine did not sputter.

Review of the recorded radar data depicted that the airplane turned left to a west heading shortly after takeoff and then climbed to about 700 ft above the ground as it neared the ocean shoreline. The area was sparsely populated. The last recorded radar target was near the witness's location, west of BOK, and about 1.5 miles southeast of where personal effects from the occupants of the airplane were found washed ashore.

Information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that the pilot's family contacted local authorities after they became concerned when the pilot did not arrive at his intended destination. The FAA subsequently issued an alert notification that was then cancelled on July 7 after personal effects from the occupants of the airplane were found washed ashore on the beach about 3 miles northwest of BOK. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 46, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 01/13/2014
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:   207 hours (Total, all aircraft), 207 hours (Total, this make and model) 

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. He did not hold an instrument rating. He was issued an FAA third-class airman medical certificate on January 13, 2014, with the limitation that he must wear corrective lenses. According to the pilot's logbook, he had accumulated 207 total flight hours, all of which were in the accident airplane. The last entry recorded in the pilot's logbook was dated March 7, 2016, and was for a cross-country trip with a total duration of 13.87 flight hours of which 3 hours were at night. No other night flight time was recorded in the 6 months before the accident. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: CESSNA
Registration: N7870U
Model/Series: 172 F
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1964
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 17251870
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 11/11/2015, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2299 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines:  1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 4372 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: CONT MOTOR
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-300 SER
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 145 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Does Business As:
Operator Designator Code: 

The four-seat, high-wing airplane, serial number (S/N) 17251870, was manufactured in France in 1964 as a flight training airplane for the United States Air Force. It was powered by a Continental Motors O-300 engine. Review of the maintenance records showed that the engine was overhauled on November 15, 2013, at a total operating time of 4,372 hours. The last annual inspection was completed on November 11, 2015, at which time the engine had accumulated a total of 279 hours since the overhaul. 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night/Dark
Observation Facility, Elevation: KBOK, 459 ft msl
Observation Time: 0556 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 3 Nautical Miles
Direction from Accident Site: 114°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Temperature/Dew Point: 13°C / 9°C
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm
Visibility (RVR):
Altimeter Setting: 30.06 inches Hg
Visibility (RVV):
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: BROOKINGS, OR (BOK)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: GRANTS PASS, OR (3S8)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1100 PDT
Type of Airspace: Unknown 

The nearest weather reporting station was BOK. According to recorded information, at 2256, the weather conditions were winds calm, visibility 10 statute miles or greater, sky clear, temperature 13°C, dew point 09°C, and an altimeter setting of 30.06 inches of mercury.

According to the Astronomical Applications Department of the United States Naval Observatory, the official sunset was at 2056; the official end of civil twilight was at 2130; and the official moonset was 2104.

Airport Information

Airport: BROOKINGS (BOK)
Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 462 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 30
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 2900 ft / 60 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: None 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 2 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 3 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude:  42.078889, -124.333333

The main wreckage was identified in high current waters about 2 miles west of BOK and was not recovered. The search and rescue efforts continued for over 30 days until the occupants were recovered. The nose landing gear assembly and seat foam were the only airplane parts recovered. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Oregon State Police Morgue, Oregon State Police Headquarters, Central Point, Oregon, performed an autopsy of the pilot. The cause of death was reported as severe blunt trauma.

The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology testing that identified ethanol at 0.041 gm/dl in cavity blood and 0.017 gm/dl in urine. In addition, N-propanol was identified in cavity blood and urine. Ethanol is the intoxicant found in beer, wine, and liquor. Ethanol may also be produced in postmortem tissues by microbial action; when this occurs other alcohols such as N-propanol may also be formed. 

Additional Information

Spatial Disorientation

According to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3), "night flying is very different from day flying and demands more attention of the pilot. The most noticeable difference is the limited availability of outside visual references. Therefore, flight instruments should be used to a greater degree.… Generally, at night it is difficult to see clouds and restrictions to visibility, particularly on dark nights or under overcast. The pilot flying under [visual flight rules] VFR must exercise caution to avoid flying into clouds or a layer of fog." The handbook described some hazards associated with flying in airplanes under VFR when visual references, such as the ground or horizon, are obscured. The handbook states that, "the vestibular sense (motion sensing by the inner ear) in particular tends to confuse the pilot. Because of inertia, the sensory areas of the inner ear cannot detect slight changes in the attitude of the airplane, nor can they accurately sense attitude changes that occur at a uniform rate over a period of time. On the other hand, false sensations are often generated; leading the pilot to believe the attitude of the airplane has changed when in fact, it has not. These false sensations result in the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation."

NTSB Identification: WPR16LA138
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, July 04, 2016 in Brookings, OR
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N7870U
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 4, 2016, about 2300 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172F, N7870U, impacted the Pacific Ocean shortly after takeoff from Brookings Airport (BOK), Brookings, Oregon. The private pilot and two passengers were presumed to have been fatally injured; the search for the airplane continues. The airplane was registered to Cessna 7870U, LLC, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from BOK about 2300, with a destination of Grants Pass Airport, Grants Pass, Oregon.

Information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), revealed that the family of the pilot contacted local authorities after they became concerned when the pilot had not arrived at his intended destination. The FAA subsequently issued an Alert Notification, which was then cancelled on July 7, after airplane wreckage was found washed up on shore 3 miles northwest of BOK.

Review of the recorded radar data depicted that the airplane turned left shortly after takeoff, and then climbed westward to about 700 feet above the ground. The last recorded radar target was about 1 mile west of BOK, and less than 2 miles southeast from where the airplane wreckage was found.

A witness located 1 1/2 miles west of BOK reported that during the time of the accident, he heard an airplane flying nearby and assumed that it was taking off from the airport. He thought it was unusual for an airplane to be flying that late in the evening. As the airplane continued, he heard the engine slowdown in speed but couldn't remember whether it stopped or went out of hearing range.



GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — John Belnap would have experienced a "black hole" of darkness within moments after taking off from Brookings on the moonless night of July 4, when his Cessna 172 crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

The relatively inexperienced pilot from Grants Pass had some instrument training, but two veteran pilots with more than 75 years of experience between them doubt his ability to navigate safely in those conditions.

They believe it's almost certain that Belnap, licensed to fly since 2014, experienced what's called spatial disorientation, the same condition that caused John F. Kennedy Jr. to spiral into the Atlantic off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., exactly 17 years ago today.

"As soon as he got offshore, he's looking at a black hole," said Robert Katz of Dallas, Texas, a flight instructor and 35-year pilot who tracks plane crashes across the nation. He contacted the Daily Courier after reading of the Belnap crash. "No useful horizon at all. You don't see a thing. There is no doubt in my mind this pilot became spatially disoriented."

Belnap, 46, his son Max, 17, and friend Ryan Merker, 17, are presumed dead. The Belnap family, including wife Cheryl and three other children, had met John Belnap for Fourth of July festivities in Brookings.

Aside from personal effects and the nose wheel of the plane, the main wreckage has yet to be found from the crash, approximately a half-mile from shore at Lone Ranch Beach northwest of Brookings.

Once the wreckage is found, the National Transportation Safety Board will attempt to determine an official cause.

One of the few clues of the doomed flight came from a resident above Highway 101.

Debra Itzen of Brookings was tending to her horses when she saw the plane go right over her house at 11:15 p.m., only about 150 feet off the ground, headed for the ocean. She likely heard the crash off in the distance, but unable to see anything, she dismissed a "crunching" sound she heard to Fourth of July fireworks and didn't learn of the crash until the next day.

Itzen said the Cessna flew low and slow, but with no signs the engine was straining, sputtering or stalling.

Chances are Belnap was straining to figure out up from down by then.

Spatial disorientation, commonly called vertigo, causes people to lose their bearings. It's a conflict in the brain between what the eyes see and what the body feels.

"You get it as soon as you lose your horizon," Katz said.

"You suddenly realize, 'I don't know what direction I'm facing. I don't know if I'm going up or down, turning right or left,'" said Larry Graves, Josephine County airports manager and lifelong pilot. "It's a fact, you can't tell where that airplane is going unless you're trained and have recent experience flying the plane on the instruments."

Belnap did have some instrument training. Anyone with a pilot's license, even at the "visual flight rules" level that Belnap was at, has to get three hours of training solely on the instruments.

He also had a smartphone application called ForeFlight with GPS, with some of the same capabilities as the standard "six-pack" of instruments on Cessna — air speed, attitude indicator, altitude, vertical speed, heading and turn coordination.

Jonathan Jenson, a fellow nurse anesthetist at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center who co-owned the Cessna with Belnap, said his friend was conscientious and safety minded. Belnap was well aware of the dangers, having lost his father and two younger siblings in a small plane crash in Arizona in 1982.

"He and I had those conversations many times, you have to learn to trust the instruments," Jenson said. "My guess is he would have done that. When you find yourself in instrument conditions, you turn and rely on the instruments."

Katz and Graves believe no matter the trust, and knowledge of the instruments, Belnap was a long shot in those conditions to keep the plane in the air. It takes 450 hours of instrument time to even qualify to take the test to be instrument-certified, Katz said.

"Three hours is just enough time combined with an iPad to fool a pilot into thinking he can handle this scenario," Katz said. "Instructors fail to demonstrate to students the reality of just how fast the situation will deteriorate because (they feel like) it is 'unpleasant' for the student to experience."

Graves said with no recent instrument experience or training, spatial disorientation can quickly cause a life-or-death situation.

"It's a very difficult and challenging thing to do, especially if it catches you off guard," he said.

Graves said he wouldn't have made the flight from Brookings to Grants Pass that night, "and I've been flying for 40 years. I avoid those situations when I can."

Making a turn over the ocean while gaining the required altitude to clear mountains later in the flight would have made the task even tougher, he said.

"One of the most difficult things to do under instrument conditions is to maintain a constant turn rate," Graves said.. "You have to suspend your disbelief. You have to disregard what your brain is telling you and focus on the instrument panel."

Belnap had flown at night before, Jenson said. He flew to Salinas, Calif., every month for work as a nurse anesthetist, often landing at night, but in a heavily populated, well-lit area.

Hours before the crash, Belnap talked to Jenson about not making the flight if weather conditions were poor, but they didn't talk about darkness.

"The fact that it was a new moon made this one challenging," Jenson said in retrospect. "Whether that had anything to do with it, we may never know. I still think the plane was mechanically sound. I've been over it and over it."

Katz said spatial disorientation would have been a problem on the entire flight path to Grants Pass, which is mostly mountainous wilderness.

To add more context, Graves said flying just from Cave Junction to Grants Pass at night is a total instrument-only flight, and "you can't fly it successfully looking for visual references."

For Katz, it's a classic example of overconfidence in an ability to fly, an especially challenging endeavor.

"In an airplane, what you see and feel is in conflict. Flying an airplane is like balancing on the head of a pin.

"Human beings do not have the natural capacity to maintain a physical sense of balance without a stable visual reference — either the natural horizon or an artificial horizon" via the attitude indicator, Katz said.

He said spatial disorientation probably happened extremely quickly to Belnap.

"This totally preventable scenario has occurred so many times throughout history that the NTSB has the investigation process down to a science," Katz said. "The circumstances are almost identical to the JFK Jr. incident.

"I study these incidents every day. Pilots are not learning from the mistakes of others."

A memorial was held to honor Max and John Belnap at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


BROOKINGS, Ore. -- The Curry County Sheriff says Tuesday could be the day the missing plane is found.

A sonar expert with investigative equipment is arriving on the coast Monday night, a day ahead of schedule. More dive teams from across Oregon will be assisting in the search during ideal weather conditions.

"Tomorrow morning we're going to have the expert with side scan sonar out there: mapping the area, scanning, and if he finds a location of interest we'll mark it and we'll send divers down on it," Sheriff John Ward said.

After finding oil from the plane and what is confirmed to be John Belnap's t-shirt, the Sheriff knows they are looking in the right area. He said they needed new equipment to move forward.

Original article can be found here:  http://ktvl.com

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