Victoria, Minnesota, plane crash result of ‘disoriented’ pilot during landing: Report

A plane crash in Victoria, Minnesota, that killed three people in 2021 was the result of its pilot losing control due to "spatial disorientation" during its final approach, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the single-engine plane took off from the Alexandria Municipal Airport on Aug. 7, 2021, and was set to land at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie when it went down around 5:40 p.m. that evening, crashing into a vacant lot and a home.

Through an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash, the NTSB has said the pilot, identified as Dr. James Edney, 72, of the Mooney M20M plane became disoriented on the cloudy night.

A performance study showed that when the airplane made a series of turns on its final approach, erratic altitude and airspeed fluctuations occurred. The airspeed and altitude fluctuations, and the tight spiraling turn that began afterward, were consistent with the pilot becoming "spatially disoriented," due to the lack of visual references.

While Edney was nearing the final approach, several of his radio transmissions were either "delayed or disjointed," indicating he was task-saturated at the time, according to the report. A King Air pilot who heard his communications stated that the pilot sounded "stressed" and "confused."

At the time of the crash, several witnesses heard a loud "popping noise" and observed the airplane in a rapid descent with at least one of the wings "folded up." Review of a doorbell security video near the accident site revealed that the airplane was upright and in a nose-high attitude at ground impact, and that both wings and the right stabilizer were deflected upward in a vertical position, according to the report.

Edney and two passengers – one of whom was a student pilot – died as a result of the crash. No one on the ground was injured.

Diphenhydramine – commonly marketed as Benadryl – was detected in Edney's liver and heart tissue following the crash, and is known to cause sedation that can slow psychomotor responses and reaction times, potentially contributing to the susceptibility of spatial disorientation.

In 2017, Edney had previously reported to his insurance company that he had lost directional control during a landing, and that the airplane he was flying subsequently struck runway edge lights, which resulted in damage to the right horizontal stabilizer of the plane. The damage was repaired in 2018.

At the time, Edney's friend stated that the runway excursion was due to "a distraction during the landing rollout."