Saturday, March 27, 2021

Controlled Flight Into Terrain: Cessna 182D Skylane, N8889X; accident occurred April 02, 2017 near Blue Earth Municipal Airport (KSBU), Faribault County, Minnesota

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Minneapolis, Minnesota

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Blue Earth, Minnesota 
Accident Number: GAA17CA215
Date & Time: April 1, 2017, 22:00 Local 
Registration: N8889X
Aircraft: Cessna 182
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Controlled flight into terr/obj (CFIT) 
Injuries: 2 Minor, 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


The pilot reported that, while approaching the destination airport in night, marginal visual meteorological conditions, he turned on the pilot-controlled runway lights. He added that he began a descent to the runway without observing the runway lights or airport and encountered "ground fog" about 200 to 300 ft above ground level (agl). He further added that he continued the descent to the runway while referencing the navigational moving map and GPS altitude on his electronic flight bag (EFB) application ForeFlight. Subsequently, while in a left turn, the airplane impacted terrain about 1 nautical mile south of the runway.

The left wing, firewall, and fuselage sustained substantial damage.

The pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation. He added that, while en route, he reset his airplane installed barometric pressure altimeter to the GPS altitude indicated on his EFB, which resulted in a "300 ft. error."

An automated weather observing station, about 14 nautical miles west of the accident airport, recorded visibility at 2 1/2 statute miles, light rain, mist, and an overcast cloud ceiling at 300 ft agl.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's decision to continue the night, visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain while on final approach. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's improper use of an electronic flight bag.


Personnel issues Decision making/judgment - Pilot
Aircraft Altitude - Not attained/maintained
Aircraft (general) - Incorrect use/operation
Environmental issues Fog - Decision related to condition
Environmental issues Below VFR minima - Decision related to condition

Factual Information

History of Flight

Approach-VFR pattern final VFR encounter with IMC
Approach-VFR pattern final Loss of visual reference
Approach-VFR pattern final Controlled flight into terr/obj (CFIT) (Defining event)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 67, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land 
Seat Occupied: Right
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None 
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 With waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: December 22, 2015
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: September 9, 2016
Flight Time: (Estimated) 1069.8 hours (Total, all aircraft), 32.8 hours (Total, this make and model), 1069.8 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 12.1 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 7 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 7 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Student pilot Information

Certificate: Student 
Age: 56, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None 
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 Without waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: September 29, 2016
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: (Estimated) 35 hours (Total, all aircraft), 35 hours (Total, this make and model)

Passenger Information

Certificate: Age: Male
Airplane Rating(s): 
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): 
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): 
Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): 
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification:
Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna 
Registration: N8889X
Model/Series: 182 D 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1961
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 18253289
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: Unknown
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2650 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 3143.15 Hrs at time of accident
Engine Manufacturer: Continental
ELT: C91A installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-470-L
Registered Owner:
Rated Power: 230 Horsepower
Operator: On file 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument (IMC)
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: KFRM, 1162 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 14 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 03:06 Local
Direction from Accident Site: 270°
Lowest Cloud Condition: 
Visibility 2.5 miles
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 300 ft AGL
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 7 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:  / None
Wind Direction: 170° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:  / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.8 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 9°C / 8°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: Moderate - None - Mist
Departure Point: ST PAUL, MN (21D) 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: BLUE EARTH, MN (SBU) 
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 20:30 Local
Type of Airspace: Class G

Airport Information

Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 1107 ft msl 
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 34 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 3400 ft / 75 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: Straight-in

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Minor 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A Aircraft
Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Minor, 1 None 
Latitude, Longitude: 43.595275,-94.092781(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. Incockpit 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. Unbelievable! Low IMC nighttime approach with an I-Pad!! It's stupidity like this that gives aviation a black eye. Let's be better than this!!!

  2. what a lucky SOB. I know a guy who invented his own IMC approaches–he's pin a open area on his gps, fly to it in VFR on top, then spiral down over the spot to get under the deck. In controlled airspace! He's still alive, and I'm not sure he's still doing it. (this was about 20 years ago.