So far, spring has come in like a lion. As the 2006 severe weather season heats up, don't forget that thunderstorms and tornadoes are best left alone.
On May 5, 2003, the pilot of a Piper Cherokee Six and his passenger were killed when they hit Horn Mountain near Calhoun, Georgia, at about 1:30 p.m. CDT. The flight departed Jacksboro, Tennessee, at 11:20 a.m., and was destined for Geneva, Alabama. The pilot called flight service the morning of the accident and received a weather briefing for a flight from Geneva to Jacksboro and back. He also filed two instrument flight plans--one for each leg.
At 4 p.m. the pilot contacted Nashville flight service and stated that he had a flight plan on file from Jacksboro to Geneva, and asked about picking up his instrument clearance en route over Rome, Georgia. The pilot was advised many times about the adverse weather along his route, including instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) between Jacksboro and Rome, as well as active tornado watches in the area. The pilot reiterated that he would be departing shortly after the phone call to flight service ended. The instrument flight plan was never activated.
A search was initiated after the flight failed to arrive in Geneva, but was postponed because of inclement weather. The search resumed on May 8 and the wreckage was located that day.
Weather conditions on the day of the accident in nearby Dalton, Georgia, were recorded as 1,000 feet broken, 1,900 feet broken, 2,600 feet overcast with one and three-quarter miles visibility. The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate for both single-engine and multiengine land airplanes and an instrument rating. He had nearly 3,000 hours of experience with 290 hours of actual instrument time.
The NTSB determined the cause of the accident was the pilot's failure to obtain an updated preflight weather briefing, which would have indicated that marginal VFR to IFR conditions prevailed over the route with embedded thunderstorms and rain, as well as his decision to continue VFR flight into IMC.
Accidents like this one are preventable. The pilot was told of the horrible weather along his route, but chose to depart anyway. For more information about how to avoid an in-flight encounter with a thunderstorm, take the AOPA Air Safety Institute's free online course, Weather Wise: Thunderstorms and ATC.
Accident reports can be found in ASI's accident database.