I'm not afraid! Send me back to the Bermuda Triangle


As the story goes:
On January 5, 2000, the pilot of a Cessna 172 requested a VFR following for landing. At 9:41 and 51 seconds he was identified at 2,500 feet. At 9:45 and 24 seconds radar watched him at 2,000 feet. He was coming closer to the airport. And at 9:45 and 51 seconds he was at 1,200 feet. He was only 4 miles east of St. Augustine Airport. The weather was clear. Nine seconds later he said: "Ah, JAX I do not see anything." One second later he vanished. Pieces of the plane were, in this case, found the next day along with the body of the pilot. There is no explanation yet by what he meant. How can a pilot suddenly not see the lighted shoreline?

So begins the latest in a long string of myths attributed to the Bermuda Triangle.

Here are some questions that should be asked before accepting the statement above as the truth.

Below are two primary documents that dismiss the "myth" above.

First we learn that the pilot was a student pilot from Tunisia. He was flying at night with light cloud cover and virtually no moon. He was flying over the ocean. The pilot had received his solo license only a few days earlier and had absolutely no solo flying time using instruments at nights. He had requested a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight and was granted it. Yet, even with a VFR flight, some instruments must be used. He was not going to rely on instruments to land the plane.

The story above makes it sound like he was flying to Jacksonville International Airport. He was in fact flying into Craig Municipal Airport, which is located on the Coast of Jacksonville and is more convenient for small Aircraft. Craig is capable of handling both VFR and IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flights.

The story above says Air Traffic Control lost contact with the aircraft at 9:45 and 51 seconds the pilot was at and altitude 1,200 feet. It also infers that the plane dropped 1300 feet in 27 seconds. Continuing at such a speed, the plane would hit the ocean within 25 seconds.

According to the official report, the pilot left Orlando had been flying for approximately one and half hours We do not know how much he had rested before flying. The end of his flight went as follows:
(Note: The times are reported in UTC, Universal Time Coordinated. 0245AM would have been 9:45 PM local time.)

The airplane was observed on radar at 2,000 feet, heading 013 degrees, 112 knots at 0245:24. At 0245:57, the airplane was observed at 1200 feet, heading 051 degrees, and the ground speed had increased to 124 knots. The pilot stated at 0245:58, "I haven't any direction finder I don't see anything one five six ro"
Note the plane is picking up speed as it is heading towards the sea. What you see is a plane that is going into a dive.

The NTSB ruled that the pilot became spatially disoriented which is a fancy way to say he didn't know which way was up from down. This is very common among pilots when flying on dark moonless nights over water. Without instruments to tell you which way your plane is oriented, you can easily wind up flying upside down and eventually into the sea. If the term spatial disorientation sounds vaguely familiar it is probably because you heard all about it when J.F.K. jr. died in a plane crash.

See the reports below for more details.

From St. Augustine Online:
January, 8, 2000

Debris of missing plane, body of pilot discovered
Staff Writer

NORTH BEACH — The remains of a 29-year-old student pilot from Orlando were found on the beach still strapped to the seat of a Cessna 172 late Thursday night. St. Johns County sheriff’s deputies had been searching a seven-mile stretch of shoreline from Ponte Vedra to Vilano beaches since 2 p.m. Thursday after parts of the missing plane had been reported washing up in that area.

The body of the pilot, Mohammad Cherif, was found about 11 p.m.

According to reports from deputies, the U.S. Coast Guard and federal aviation officials, Cherif was a flight school student from Tunisia whose pilot’s license had been issued Dec. 31.

As part of his training for a commercial license, Cherif left Orlando about 8:15 p.m. Wednesday on a flight to Savannah at an elevation of about 2,500 feet when he approached Jacksonville for a stopover landing at Cecil Field.

But his plane disappeared off radar about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The Coast Guard issued bulletins to boaters Wednesday, warning them to be on the lookout for a missing white plane, but when debris began washing ashore, deputies organized a search.

Sheriff Neil Perry said deputies usually only assist other agencies in handling airplane crashes.

‘‘But in this case, the National Transportation and Safety Board said it would take several days for them to get here and investigate. And the Coast Guard doesn’t have the manpower to collect the wreckage,’’ he said. ‘‘They asked us to collect it.’’

The sheriff’s Mobile Command Center was immediately set up on North Beach.

Early Thursday evening, a search by about 30 deputies turned up the Cessna’s three wheels, one of its two seats, part of the plane’s dashboard, flooring from the cockpit and a man’s shoe and car keys.

Deputies asked that anyone finding wreckage or debris from an aircraft to not touch it but call them immediately.

Dave Williams, county director of beach management, said it was common for federal and state officials to ask local authorities for help.

‘‘This is probably my 10th plane crash,’’ Williams said, scanning the ocean for debris. ‘‘It’s going to take a while for everything to wash ashore, especially the bigger stuff.’’

A Coast Guard helicopter and Air One, the sheriff’s helicopter, flew search patterns off the beach, and county lifeguards used their boat for a closer look at the ocean surface.

According to Kevin Kelshaw, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, at about 11 p.m. Thursday, a deputy patrolling the beach found Cherif’s body in the surf about a mile north of the sheriff’s command post.

He was still strapped to the seat.

Kelshaw said the Cessna’s wreckage will be held at the sheriff’s impound yard until a private company can be contracted to store it for federal investigators.

‘‘We’ll continue to look today and see if any more debris washes up,’’ he said.

And From the National Transportation Safety Board
NTSB Identification: MIA00FA064 . The docket is stored in the (offline) NTSB Imaging System.

Accident occurred Wednesday, January 05, 2000 at ATLANTIC, AO
Aircraft:Cessna 172R, registration: N156RA
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

The noninstrument-rated private pilot was on a night solo cross-country flight at 2,600 feet in radio contact with Jacksonville approach. The airplane was subsequently observed by the controller on radar at 2,000 feet, heading 013 degrees, 112 knots at 0245:24. At 0245:57, the airplane was observed on radar at 1200 feet, heading 051 degrees, and the ground speed had increased to 124 knots. The pilot stated at 0245:58, 'I haven't any direction finder I don't see anything one six ro.' At 0246:28, radar contact was lost. The pilot had recorded as logged 1 hour of night pilot-in-command flight time. All simulated instrument time was dual instruction. The moon set at 2159 with only 1 percent illumination.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident was:

The pilot's lack of total experience in instrument flight, simulated instrument flight, and night flight resulting in the pilot becoming spatially disoriented, and subsequent in-flight collision with water. Contributing to the accident was the dark night with no visible horizon.

View the full NTSB document and see what was really said between Air Traffic Control and the Pilor