Saturday, June 20, 2015

Recent Private Plane Accidents Are Rather.........

             Piper PA-28 -140 1966 Cherokee

Recent private plane accidents are rather “ho hum”. Yes, more of the same and boring. For example let me list some of the recent accidents. There were five “went off” the runway landings. Several with add ons like: into the mud, struck runway lights and/or struck prop. Two “force landed” in a field, one on a golf course. Two “nosed over” on landing and another flipped over.  That was just in three days. Having landed safely many hundreds of times in all sorts of planes, I just can’t imagine doing all this nonsense. 

I read an interesting article: ”Why Private Planes are Nearly as Deadly as Cars” in Life Science dated February 5, 2015. Here some of the main points:
1.      Accident rates essentially unchanged over past decade.
2.      2010 NTSB report : 1 death every 100,000 flight hours. While accident and
fatalities are down in corporate and business jet flights, Accident rate in personal flights increased by 20% in past decade and fatality rates are up by 25%.
3.      Comparing auto and plane deaths, it is 19 times more dangerous stepping into a private plane.
4.      Why do general aviation planes crash?
a.      The number 1 reason is Loss of Control.
b.      Number 2 reason is flight into IFR conditions by those untrained in instrument flight. This frequently results in fatalities.
5.      A reason why so many accidents is suggested by the author: recurrent training is required only every two years for private ticket holders. Long time for those who don’t fly often. (When I was flying commercially, I had a check ride every six months).
6.      According to the AOPA: twice a week a plane crashes because of running out of gas. That I consider is too dumb to discuss. I came close to it once early in my flight career. So I speak from experience.

But no one is perfect.  Please read below about an early misadventure of mine.  

I might as well fess up to that flight alluded to above. It occurred  in the mid to late sixties when I was in my second year of medical school. Three of my fellow students and yours truly had friends in Boston and wanted to visit them over a late fall weekend. So I made arrangements to rent a Piper 140, that was marginally IFR equipped, as was I the pilot, at the time. We headed east early on Saturday in good VFR. Strong westerly’s were blowing. Nice for part of the trip anyway. As we passed Albany, having taken off from Syracuse, we were slightly less than halfway there. So far so good. Great ground speed, but not so weather wise. 

Clouds started forming, but we were still VFR. As we approached Worcester, the picture got a bit scary. The weather there included some isolated snow showers with some reduction in visibility. I called flight service to get the latest Boston weather. Ouch! it was marginal VFR with snow and forecast to get worse, which it did. As I didn’t feel I had the skills to handle serious IFR weather, I decided we better head back west and look for a place to land an reevaluate things. But I hadn’t considered the strong westerly’s, now our enemy as a headwind. Checking the fuel gauges we had about half tanks or slightly better. But with the strong headwinds our ground speed really dropped. Calculating things, I was worried that our fuel supply would be inadequate. I was hoping to land back along our return route but couldn’t. It all was turning IFR. I made the decision to push on, leaning the engine as much as possible to minimize fuel burn. Long story short. We landed back at Syracuse with little better than fumes in the tanks. That was something I vowed never to repeat. A poor piloting job was offset by help from the good fairy, something you can't count on. After that it never did happen again.

So fellow pilots. Never plan a trip so that your fuel reserves will be challenged . The good fairy may not be around.