The Case For Aerial Seatbelts

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A pilot went for a swim and his airplane went flying without him after some unfortunate control inputs during a flight in Florida last September. According to the NTSB's final report, released on Monday, the pilot flew to Lake Okeechobee to practice touch and goes in his Aventura II, a light experimental amphibian. When the pilot arrived at the lake, he turned into the wind and the nose of the airplane rose. He over-corrected, and the abrupt movement jolted his hand on the throttle, causing him to inadvertently apply full power and push the flight controls to the left. The sharp left turn threw him out the right side of the airplane. Anthony Bencivenga, 67, of Port St. Lucie, told the Palm Beach Post that a pontoon hit the water, and somehow he accidentally released the buckle of his safety harness. He found himself in the water with no life jacket and no glasses. "I couldn't see a thing," he said. "I was just praying to Jesus ... I said, if I'm going to die please drown me first before the alligators get me." A friend who was flying nearby spotted him in the water and called for help.

A fisherman came to Bencivenga's aid and brought him safely to shore. The airplane leveled itself off and flew about a mile before it settled down and flipped over in shallow water, the NTSB said. The probable cause of the accident, the safety board concluded, was the pilot's failure to maintain directional control of the airplane during landing, which resulted in the pilot being inadvertently ejected and the airplane's impact with the water during an uncontrolled descent.