CAP Loses Credibility in NTSB Findings on Alabama Crash

Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182T, N784CP
Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182T, N784CP

By National Transportation Safety Board

[Editor’s Note: A CAPTalk and AuxBeacon reader has called the membership’s attention to the fact that Civil Air Patrol has been exposed once again in another NTSB report assigning CAP pilot error as the cause of a recent crash. The CAP Mission Pilot was medicated to prevent heart attacks and failed to find the correct antidote to one or more of the five hazardous attitudes. The right seat CAP Mission Scanner was medicated with tranquilizers.]

On February 1, 2016, about 19:45 central standard time, a Cessna 182T, N784CP, was destroyed by a collision with trees, terrain and a post-crash fire following a missed approach to the Mobile Regional Airport (MOB), Mobile, Alabama.

According to CAP, both pilots were members of the Alabama Wing’s Mobile Composite Squadron. The airline transport pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the Civil Air Patrol as a personal flight under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions existed at the airport at the time of the accident, and the flight was operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan. The flight originated from Louisiana Regional Airport (L38), Gonzales, Louisiana, about 18:30.

The accident flight was the final leg of a 300-nautical mile (nm), three-leg “compassion flight;” the purpose of the flight was to transport a passenger from Florida to her home in Louisiana. The pilots departed BFM about 09:30 on the day of the accident and flew to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), Panama City Florida. While at ECP, the pilot contacted the flight release officer (FRO) to inform him that their departure would be delayed about 2 1/2 hours due to a problem with the airplane that was delivering the passenger to ECP. After the passenger arrived, the flight departed ECP for L38 about 15:00.

The FBO owner was concerned about the accident pilots flying at night given the potential for fog and offered them a courtesy car and assistance with obtaining accommodations for the night. The crew acknowledged his concern about the weather but wanted to return to BFM in time for their CAP meeting and before the fog set in. At 18:33, the flight which was operating under the call sign “CAP 184,” departed L38, contacted air traffic control (ATC), and was issued an instrument flight rules clearance to BFM.

The airplane was found about 1 nm mile west of MOB at 02:00 on February 2, 2016, after search personnel tracked the airplane’s emergency locator transmitter (ELT) to the accident site.

Spatial Disorientation

According to the FAA’s General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, a pilot’s sight, supported by other senses, allows a pilot to maintain orientation while flying. However, when visibility is restricted (i.e., no visual reference to the horizon or surface detected), the body’s supporting senses can conflict with what is seen. When this spatial disorientation occurs, sensory conflicts and optical illusions often make it difficult for a pilot to tell which way is up.

The FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3) described some hazards associated with flying when visual references, such as the ground or horizon, are obscured. “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.”


The FAA publication Medical Facts for Pilots (AM-400-03/1), described several vestibular illusions associated with the operation of aircraft in low visibility conditions. Somatogravic illusions, those involving the utricle and saccule of the vestibular system, were generally placed into one of three categories, one of which was “the head-up illusion.” According to the text, the head-up illusion involves a forward linear acceleration, such as takeoff, where the pilot perceives that the nose of the aircraft is pitching up. The pilot’s response to this illusion would be to push the control yoke forward to pitch the nose of the aircraft down. “A night takeoff from a well-light airport into a totally dark sky (black hole) or a catapult takeoff from an aircraft carrier can also lead to this illusion and could result in a crash.”

FAA Advisory Circular AC 60-22, Aeronautical Decision Making, stated, “Pilots, particularly those with considerable experience, as a rule always try to complete a flight as planned, please passengers, meet schedules, and generally demonstrate that they have ‘the right stuff.'” One of the common behavioral traps identified was “Get-There-Itis.” The text stated, “Common among pilots, [get-there-itis] clouds the vision and impairs judgment by causing a fixation on the original goal or destination combined with a total disregard for any alternative course of action.”


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