Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snow another cause of low IFR

This recent snow storm caused me to remember a flight I made in a Pa-31 Navaho Chieftan in the middle of the night into Saranac Lake, NY (KSLK) one January. I got a call late in the evening from the FBO whom I flew for occasionally. They needed me to fly to KSLK and pick up an injured skier and bring him back to Burlington,Vt as he apparently was badly hurt. I agreed to fly the charter . When I arrived the plane was already on the tarmac, free of ice and snow, having been hangared. I checked the weather and filed an IFR roundtrip to Saranac Lake and back. The weather at Burlington was not bad. Light to moderate snow 1 mile viz and a ceiling on the order of 1000 feet. It wasn't clear exactly what to expect at KSLK. The plan then was to fly to Saranac, shoot the ILS and hope to get in. If I couldn't land my alternate was back in Burlington, if not there Montreal or maybe even Albany.

The flight to Saranac Lake took about 15 minutes. I filed for 6000' the minimum safe altitude due to a 3800' mountain located only 8 miles to the SE of the airport. I made sure my pitot heat was on and frequently checked the wing leading edges with the ice light to make sure there was no ice accumulation. The approach went well. Intercepting the localizer about 10 miles out and then tracking it and the glide slope to the minimum altitude (1863'). As I didn't know if the field was above minimums, I studied the missed approach procedure and hoped for the best. Fortunately, as we neared the MDA (minimum descent altitude) the field showed up through the snow and haze. It was a welcome site as otherwise I would have had to execute the missed approach and try again or head back. The landing went well in spite of three to four inches of fresh snow on the runway. Feeling somewhat relieved, I taxied to the terminal and spotted the waiting ambulance.

The patient was carefully placed in the back of the plane and strapped down in the stretcher. A nurse came with him and we headed back. Fortunately, Burlington stayed well above minimums so landing there was no problem.

The moral of the story. Sometimes you have to make a flight without knowing exactly what conditions to expect. As long as you follow all the approved procedures (especially MDA's) you can give it a try. If unsuccessful, go around on a published missed approach procedure and try again, fuel permitting or go to your alternate.

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