September 1, 2004, Willits, Calif. / Cessna 172S


The airplane was destroyed and the Private pilot received minor injuries after descending into trees about 1/8th mile west of the Willits Municipal Airport. Visual conditions prevailed for the dark, nighttime flight that originated in Watsonville, Calif., about 90 minutes earlier. The pilot reported no mechanical malfunctions during the flight; the airplanes landing light was functional, although he did not use it. According to the pilot, he was attempting to locate his home base airport. Upon arriving in the vicinity of the airport, he keyed the airplanes radio transmitter to activate the airports runway lights. The pilot reported that he made two such attempts and both were unsuccessful. Then, he maneuvered toward what he believed was the airport to make a low pass over Runway 16/34. The pilot intended to level out about 500 feet above the traffic pattern altitude but the airplane continued descending until it collided with trees and terrain west of the runway. According to the FAAs Automated Flight Service Station in Oakland, Calif., a NOTAM was in effect for the airport stating Runway 16/34 runway lights out of service.


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