Saturday, January 30, 2021

Visual Flight Rules encounter with Instrument Meteorological Conditions: Beechcraft 77 Skipper, N3815Z; accident occurred June 20, 2020 in Elizabethton, Carter County, Tennessee

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

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

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Nashville, Tennessee

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: ELIZABETHTON, Tennessee 
Accident Number: ERA20CA222
Date & Time: June 20, 2020, 08:00 Local
Registration: N3815Z
Aircraft: Beech 77
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: VFR encounter with IMC 
Injuries: 2 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


The student pilot and his passenger departed on a visual flight rules cross country flight and entered instrument meteorological conditions. The pilot decided to continue climbing, and when the airplane exited the clouds, the student pilot saw the top of a mountain and trees directly in front of him. He “stalled” the airplane to reduce speed and the airplane impacted trees at a speed of about 60 knots before it descended to the ground. The airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings, but the student pilot and the passenger were uninjured. The student pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures of the airplane what would have precluded normal operation. The pilot further stated that he made a mistake and took full responsibility for the accident.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The student pilot's decision to continue from visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in a collision with trees and mountainous terrain.


Personnel issues Decision making/judgment - Student/instructed pilot
Environmental issues Clouds - Decision related to condition

Factual Information

History of Flight

Enroute-cruise VFR encounter with IMC (Defining event)
Enroute-cruise Aerodynamic stall/spin
Uncontrolled descent Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Student 
Age: 24, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): None 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 None
Last FAA Medical Exam: June 3, 2020
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: (Estimated) 150 hours (Total, all aircraft), 40 hours (Total, this make and model)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Beech
Registration: N3815Z
Model/Series: 77 No Series
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1981
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal 
Serial Number: WA-219
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: June 24, 2019 100 hour 
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 6547.4 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: Installed 
Engine Model/Series: O-235 L2C
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 115 Horsepower
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument (IMC)
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: A09,1592 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 08:35 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 245°
Lowest Cloud Condition: 
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 2100 ft AGL
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.14 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 19°C / 17°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Morristown, TN (MOR)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR
Destination: Newport News, VA (PHF)
Type of Clearance: VFR
Departure Time: 07:00 Local 
Type of Airspace: Class C

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 None
Latitude, Longitude: 36.406944,-82.02111(est)

Preventing Similar Accidents

Reduced Visual References Require Vigilance

About two-thirds of general aviation accidents that occur in reduced visibility weather conditions are fatal. The accidents can involve pilot spatial disorientation or controlled flight into terrain. Even in visual weather conditions, flights at night over areas with limited ground lighting (which provides few visual ground references) can be challenging.

Preflight weather briefings are critical to safe flight. In-flight, weather information can also help pilots make decisions, as can in-cockpit weather equipment that can supplement official information. In cockpit equipment requires an understanding of the features and limitations. 

We often see pilots who decide to turn back after they have already encountered weather; that is too late.

Pilot's shouldn't allow a situation to become dangerous before deciding to act. Additionally, air traffic controllers are there to help; be honest with them about your situation and ask for help.

Even when flying at night, visual weather conditions can also be challenging. Remote areas with limited ground lighting provide limited visual reference cues for pilots, which can be disorienting or render rising terrain visually imperceptible. Topographic references can help pilots become more familiar with the terrain. The use of instruments, if pilots are proficient, can also help pilots navigate these challenging areas.

The NTSB presents this information to prevent recurrence of similar accidents. Note that this should not be considered guidance from the regulator, nor does this supersede existing FAA Regulations (FARs).


  1. Looks like something Dale Jr's pilots would do.


    2. He fixed it though, He bought a 560Xl N38AD

  2. Still has that passion for aviation: