Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good Judgment Is Something That Some Have And Others Don't

Good judgment is something that some have and others don’t. I’m thinking about good judgment, the kind that, when absent, causes accidents. I still have trouble understanding how a pilot who crashed and killed three passengers, his wife and two children, eight years ago managed to do it again. Yes, he piloted a plane carrying his new wife and his only remaining child and once again crashed in bad weather. But, this time he died along with his second wife. Just horrible.

The particulars of this well publicized crash are worth reviewing. There are some teaching points here that best not be forgotten. They involve the decision making process that a competent pilot must go through before committing to a specific plan of action. In this case, where to land when the weather is bad to awful.

Now, before we get into some specifics, lets back up to the preflight. When a pilot files a flight plan, whether IFR or VFR, he or she must consider the weather. Weather is the thing that will get you. Particularly at the destination airport, but also can bite you enroute. Just fly into a thunderstorm once, and if you survive you’ll not do it again given a choice. Ok. So you check the weather and find out that conditions at the destination have a good chance of being or are IFR. You don’t just take off and assume you’ll be able to land at your destination without considering alternatives. The what ifs.

This poor chap’s destination was Charlevoix, MI (KCVX). An airport with only RNAV(GPS) approaches. That means you can land in weather with a ceiling of about 600 feet and 1 mile visibility. Now KCVX is surrounded by water so watch out, the weather could be much worse, which it turned out to be in this accidents scenario ( as it was apparently, in his first fatal crash).

OK. What happened is, this pilot got all the way to KCVX, found the weather to be bad. The field has an AWOS (automated weather reporting by radio or telephone). That means one can find out the weather by radio well before reaching the airport, allowing for a change to another field if the weather is bad. So assuming that the pilot tuned in to the AWOS, he elected to try to land, even though the weather was below minimums for the available approaches. Apparently doing a combination of an instrument approach and a very chancy visual one, the plane crashed. He ended up stalling out of a turn at a presumed low airspeed and crashed into a nearby garage. The only survivor, his son, who survived the first crash also.

The really sad thing is that only 26 miles to the northeast of Charlevoix was a larger airport, Pellston Regional. This airport was not only larger but had better instrument landing approaches, that probably would have allowed the pilot, if he had done it properly, to land in the bad weather. That alternative would have been a combination of good planning and good judgment. (I wrote an article about a trip from Burlington,Vt to Wheeling,WVa, that necessitated a diversion to a landing in Pittsburgh because of the risk of running out of fuel. Some of the above considerations are discussed there.)

When I was a young buck 2nd Lt in the army, a wise sergeant told us about the six P’s.
Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Fly wisely and be safe.

1 comment:

  1. I will keep it in mind. Order for Phoenix went in this week for an April delivery David