Investigators: Young pilot who died in crash mistakenly flew into bad weather, became lost
The young pilot who died when his small plane crashed in a state park south of Gainesville last month told air traffic controllers he mistakenly flew into bad weather and had become lost, according to a preliminary report published Wednesday by the federal investigators.
"It's completely white,” pilot Adrien James Valentine, 21, of Melrose, Florida, said over the radio, according to the new report from the National Transportation Safety Board. A final report was expected within months.
Citing records from the Federal Aviation Administration, Investigators said Valentine held a private pilot certificate with about 66 hours of total flying experience. He did not have an instrument rating for flying in poor weather with low visibility and had only one hour of experience actually flying via instruments.
Instrument rating generally requires 50 hours of cross-country flight time, 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time and at least 15 hours of training from an authorized instructor, according to the trade group for general aviation pilots, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
Valentine had purchased the plane – a small propeller-driven Cherokee Piper 180 – about two weeks before the crash on Nov. 14, according to the plane’s previous owner.
Much of the four-page NTSB report confirmed previous news reporting. Valentine took off about 12:45 p.m. from Kissimmee Gateway Airport. A ground controller there warned Valentine that conditions would have required instrument flying, then moments later said the weather had marginally improved and cleared him for takeoff.
Valentine did not – and was not required to – file a flight plan detailing his destination, but he was believed to be flying to Gainesville Regional Airport, where he once worked refueling and handling small private planes. Rain and storms swept through the Gainesville area for most of the day.
The NTSB report also confirmed prior reporting about the erratic flight path in the minutes before the crash. It said Valentine reported multiple times that he was having issues with his instruments. The report included an image of Valentine’s flight path showing tight turns, ascents and descents as he tried to find clear skies to navigate.
At about 2 p.m., the plane took a series of sharp turns in rapid succession in heavily overcast weather and climbed as high as 6,900 feet before it crashed in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, an expansive area of trees, grass and wetlands.
The NTSB said its preliminary inspection of the plane’s engine and controls found no obvious mechanical problems.
Valentine’s family wrote in his obituary that he died “doing what he loved to do, flying a plane,” and that his ambition was to become a commercial pilot. His funeral was earlier this month. A GoFundMe fundraiser account has collected nearly $19,000 to help the family with funeral expenses and unexpected costs and to establish a memorial fund to help others pay for pilot training.
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