The plane crash that took the lives of four Pulaski Countians in November 2017 was blamed on pilot disorientation in the accident’s final report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The report, released today, gives details on the accident in which attorney Scott T. Foster, 41, his son Noah Foster, 15, attorney and former chaplain for the Somerset Police Department Doug Whitaker, 40, and dentist Kyle Stewart, 41, were killed.
The four were flying back to the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport after a Tennessee hunting trip.
The report’s probable cause is listed as “The non-instrument-rated pilot’s intentional visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in a loss of control due to spatial disorientation. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s self-induced pressure to complete the flight.”
That “self-induced pressure” was the group’s desire to return due to a surprise party being planned by Whitaker’s wife to celebrate his 40th birthday. Friends and family were gathered at his home waiting on his return.
Foster was the pilot of a Piper PA32 when it went down in Fountain Run, Ky., midway between the flight’s departure in Union City, Tenn., and its destination in Somerset. The plane was destroyed “during an in-flight breakup and collision with terrain.”
It took place at 2:10 p.m. Central Standard Time.
The report states that Foster flew the plane into weather conditions that required instrument flying despite not being instrument rated.
“It is likely that the pilot’s decision to continue the flight into deteriorating weather conditions resulted in his loss of airplane control due to spatial disorientation,” the NTSB said.
Foster did not file a flight plan, nor is there any record of him obtaining a weather briefing before taking off from Union City.
The report details the flight pattern and weather conditions at the time, saying that Foster radioed into Air Route Traffic Control several times.
Foster encountered weather conditions in which he informed the controller that he was going to ascend in order to maintain visual flight. Around 2:02 p.m., radar tracked the plane making a nearly 180-degree left turn, followed immediately by a 180-degree right turn. The plane’s altitude varied between 6,800 and 7,200 feet during the turns.
Foster then radioed the controller, asking “Is there any vectoring to an altitude here with some, uh, more visibility?” The controller advised Foster to standby while the controller asked other aircraft and Nashville Approach Control before advising Foster to maintain visual flight rules.
At 2:07, the controller informed Foster that other pilots reported cloud tops “around eight thousand or so.” Foster replied that he would climb to 8,000 feet.
“Over the next 30 second, the radar tract depicted shallow left and right turns with altitudes that varied between 7,000 and 7,300 feet,” according to the report.
The radar then showed the plane make a shallow right turn, then a descending right turn. Foster’s last transmission was at 2:08 p.m., where he radioed, “We’re going down.”
The report states that the Federal Aviation Administration’s forensic sciences laboratory performed toxicological testing on the pilot, and the results were negative for the presence of drugs or alcohol.
The report offers information on how to prevent similar types of accident, saying that around two-thirds of general aviation accidents that occur in reduced visibility weather conditions are fatal.
“Preflight weather briefings are critical to safe flight,” it says.