From the NTSB: "The controller asked the pilot if he had weather radar on board, and he reported he did and it gave him weather every five minutes.
"At 0930, the controller reported to the pilot that the 'lightest weather' was 'about a one nine five heading for seven miles and then it looks like you will be able to get back to Richmond.'
"At 0933, the controller informed the pilot, 'looks like direct Richmond will work out for you now, and ... should be exiting all of that weather I am receiving in about two miles.' The pilot responded, 'yes sir, that's, uh, pretty much what we are looking at.'
"At 0935 the pilot reported, 'echo mike is turning direct Richmond.' He additionally reported to the controller that there was 'a lot of lightning' in the area; however, the turbulence was light.
"At 0936 the pilot reported, 'echo mike, we just, uh, we got a problem. Looks like we just lost ... we lost attitude.'
"The controller responded, 'okay, uh, five echo mike, roger I'm showing you northbound right now and, uh, do whatever you need to, ah, the weather is off to your, uh, right from about your twelve o'clock back through your six o'clock on the right side and it's about four miles east of you.'
"No further transmissions were received from the pilot."
The Twin Comanche hit hard, likely out of control. The above is from the NTSB preliminary report. The final report with a probable cause will be a while coming, but will likely include the phrase "loss of control" and the word "thunderstorm."
Business jets and airliners have few accidents. Of the ones that they do have, a loss of control or en route accident is rare indeed. In general aviation, en route losses of control, as in the accident just related, are common occurrences. Sure, the jets fly above much of the en route weather, but the fact that we might fly in a few more clouds is no explanation for anything other than the fact that we do a lousy job of flying in those clouds.
In total, accidents involving IFR flights, where the accident sequence begins with the airplane on an IFR flight plan and flying in instrument meteorological conditions, account for about 25 percent of the fatal accidents in certified airplanes in the contiguous 48 states. Almost half of those accidents involved a loss of control when flying in terminal and en route airspace in the most recent three-year period. That does not include a few cases where the pilot lost control inside the final approach fix on an approach.
Why is the loss of control so prevalent as an accident type?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, because I have said this many times before, a lot of this can be laid squarely on the training and proficiency work that is done in general aviation. En route weather strategy and cloud flying is not generally taught and, until and unless a proposed change in the FARs is enacted, there has been no requirement that we do en route flying to stay legally current. The emphasis on repetitive approaches and holding patterns is badly misplaced.
Even though we fly down in more clouds than the jets do, not a whole lot of time is flown IFR in instrument meteoro-logical conditions. I fly on an IFR flight plan all of the time and have been doing so for many years. Yet less than 10 percent of my hours are "real" IFR, or that flown in clouds. Other pilots report similar percentages. As pointed out before, 25 percent of the serious wrecks in 10 percent of the flying outlines a high risk area.
Further, when studying this subject, a lot of accidents fall into the "approach" category, which suggests a pilot coming to grief while sniffing for asphalt. That's not the way it works in real life. For it to be a real approach event, it would have to take place relatively near the airport. A lot of so-called approach accidents occur well away from the airport and involve a loss of control.
The actual low approach, where the risk does indeed increase the closer you get to the ground, starts at the final approach fix, inbound.