Arguably the most important decision a pilot makes is the decision to either fly or not to fly (Go/No-Go decision). This decision is often easy to make if the pilot is fit for flying, the weather is good, the aircraft is airworthy and the flight is within the pilot's comfort zone. However, a thorough understanding of risk is critical to the safe completion of every flight. On Thanksgiving Day in 2011, a non-instrument-rated private pilot took off from Marion Municipal Airport (MZZ) in Indiana and crashed near the destination, Dupage Airport (DPA) in Illinois. On board the cirrus SR20 were the pilot, his two daughters, and the boyfriend of the younger daughter. None of them survived the crash. Based on reported weather conditions in the vicinity of the accident site, the flight encountered instrument meteorological conditions near its destination.
On the day of the crash, the National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis Chart, valid at 0900, depicted a low-pressure system over Wisconsin with an occluded front extending southward. The NWS Weather Depiction Chart, valid at 1000, depicted an extensive area of IFR conditions over northern Illinois. Weather conditions recorded by the KDPA Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), located about 22 miles south of the accident site at 1029, were wind from 170 degrees at 11 knots, visibility 1-3/4 miles in light rain and mist, overcast clouds at 900 feet agl, temperature 10 degrees Celsius, dew point 8 degrees Celsius.
The non-instrument-rated pilot was conducting the accident flight under visual flight rules (VFR) without a flight plan. The pilot contacted the tower air traffic controller at KDPA and inquired about landing. The controller then informed him that the airport was currently under instrument flight rules (IFR). About 30 seconds later, the pilot informed the controller that he had inadvertently flown over the airport. The controller ultimately cleared the flight to land, however, the pilot decided not to land, informing the controller that he did not want to get delayed at the airport due to the weather.From NTSB Docket
After asking the pilot if he was IFR qualified and learning that the pilot was not, the controller transferred the flight to the radar-equipped approach control facility for further assistance. That controller advised the pilot of several alternate airports in the vicinity that were under VFR. After initially indicating that he would divert to one of those airports, the pilot told the controller that he did not want to "mess with the weather" and did not want to "get stuck in here," and he declined to proceed to that airport.
Radar data depicted that, shortly after the pilot's radio transmission, the airplane entered a right turn. About 90 seconds later, the right turn tightened abruptly, consistent with the airplane entering a steep spiral. The last seconds of radar data depicted the plane entering a climb of about 2,500 feet per minute followed by an approximate 3,600 feet per minute descent. Witnesses reported hearing an airplane overhead, but they were not able to see it due to the cloud cover. They described the sound as similar to an airplane performing aerobatics. The witnesses subsequently observed the airplane below the clouds in a steep, nose-down attitude before it struck the ground.
The pilot's decision to continue flight in instrument meteorological conditions while not properly rated or on a flight plan resulted in spatial disorientation and eventual loss of control of the airplane.
A pilot must understand their limitations and carefully consider the decision to fly or not to fly and reevaluate throughout the flight. Risks must be recognized and understood, thoughtfully considered and then dealt with before and continuously during every flight.