Two pilots left South Jersey Regional Airport in a Piper Arrow at about five o'clock on an April afternoon for some instrument flying practice. The left seat pilot, with 334 hours, had single engine land and sea and instrument ratings; she had logged 100 hours of simulated and nine hours of actual instrument time, as well as 14 hours at night. The right seat pilot had 195 hours, 17 at night, and did not have an instrument rating.
After two hours they landed at Millville, about 40 miles to the south. There they spent almost three hours, eating dinner and preparing for a second practice flight, before taking off for Cape May, 30 miles distant, a little before 10 o'clock. It was a clear, dark night, with 10-mile visibility and light winds. The moon, a slender crescent, had already set.
There was no further communication with ground controllers, but the track of the airplane, stored on radar tapes, showed that it had attempted a localizer approach to Runway 19 at Cape May. After weaving back and forth across the localizer and sinking 300 feet below the minimum altitude for an intermediate segment of the approach, the Arrow continued inbound while descending at an average rate of about 850 fpm. At the last radar return, it was 100 feet above the ground, 240 feet below the MDA and crossing the localizer course from east to west.
The wreckage of the airplane was found the next morning. It had cut a 520-foot swath through trees before coming to rest two miles short of the runway. Both pilots died in the crash. The owner of a nearby campground reported having heard an unusually low-flying airplane "wind up, and then a crunching sound." Its power setting was "high," suggesting that the pilot had recognized the altitude error and tried to correct, but too late.
A few months earlier, an accident resembling this one in some respects had taken place at Monroe, Louisiana. It involved two Civil Air Patrol pilots practicing instrument approaches on a dark night in a 182. Both pilots, in this case, had commercial tickets and instrument ratings.
The two had completed a practice flight earlier in the day, then landed for a short break. They apparently switched seats for the second flight, which departed at 7:05 p.m. with the declared intention of performing two ILS approaches followed by one VOR/DME. Conditions were dark night VFR, with a broken ceiling at 9,000 feet and scattered clouds at 3,200. The temperature and dew point were only one degree apart at the start of the flight, however, and as time went on they converged and new layers began to form at 2,700 and 4,500 feet. By 7:40, the airport was reporting 4,500 overcast and 900 broken and was officially IFR.
At that point the 182 had completed one ILS approach. The tower controller pointed out that they would need an IFR clearance if they wished to continue. They accepted.
During the next ILS approach, the 182 drifted east of the final approach course for Runway 22. "I'm showing you slightly east of the ILS final approach course," the controller said. "Are you picking it up?"
"We're just now trying to make the adjustment," the pilot in the right seat replied. "We see our problem." A few seconds later he transmitted, "Are we still east of the localizer?" When the controller confirmed that they were, he said, "It's coming in now, thank you."
The controller, thinking that the pilots might want to abort the approach because of some sort of problem with the localizer receiver, said, "Are you going to need to be vectored for another approach?" The safety pilot, misunderstanding the controller's intention, replied, "Yes, we want a VOR/DME."
"I mean," said the controller, "are you going to need a vector now to reattempt the ILS to 22?"
"We have intercepted the ILS," the safety pilot replied, and then amended the request to a full stop landing. The controller asked him to say their heading, but he responded by announcing a missed approach. The tower switched them to approach control for vectors. The men in the 182 seemed to be having trouble understanding the controller, and there was some discussion of static on the frequency; but the problem went unresolved.
The pilot flying seemed again to have trouble lining up with the localizer, and, on being informed that a C-130 was on the approach four miles behind the 182, the 182's crew again declared a missed approach in order to "let him come on in." The approach controller turned the 182 to a heading of 270 degrees and then to 360, and instructed them to contact departure control. There was no response from the 182.