AVweb

« Back to Full Story

A Fatal Accident: Would You Do Better?

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

In reading over all those fatal accident reports for my blog earlier this week, the pedestrian obvious suddenly occurred to me halfway through the sweep: When we climb into airplanes and to slip the surly bonds, we don't expect to crash. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe we should expect it and thus develop what I've always thought of as a consciousness or awareness of survival. Life or death in potentially risky endeavors often turns on the smallest things; the routine habit adhered to, the nagging premonition acknowledged, the urge to say no (or yes) abided.

I thought of that when reading this accident report, one of nearly 300 fatals that occurred in 2010. In any batch of 100 or so accidents, there will be one or two of these and they're the kind that make the hair on your neck stand proud because you can't parse how or why they happened. That leads to the inevitable question: Could this have happened to me? I'm thinking the way to make sure that it doesn't is to admit that it could.

This accident occurred in October of 2010 on a cool evening in Sebewaing, Michigan, on Saginaw Bay north of the town of Saginaw. A 2675-hour CFI was giving another pilot a flight review in an 8KCAB Decathlon. The two flew into Sebewaing, did a full-stop landing, taxied back and, after a brief time on the runway, took off from runway 18, homeward bound. Two minutes later both were dead. Witnesses said the engine was heard to sputter, then die entirely. The airplane was headed back toward the airport when it nose dived into an open field and burned.

Sounds like a typical turnback accident. Or was it? The NTSB summary said the airplane failed to maintain airspeed but the word stall isn't mentioned. This is one of the frustrations of making sense of accident reports. You sometimes have to connect too-few dots. If there's any immediate lesson, it's that the investigator observed there was a clear area suitable for a straight-ahead landing. But to me, the more troubling question is why the two pilots, especially a 2675-hour CFI, couldn't, in desperation, at least pull a survivable crash out of a possibly botched decision to turn back to the airport. Where was the consciousness of survival? Where was the deft hand that could unload a wing just enough? These are unanswerable questions but they lead to another: Would I have done any better? I have a large enough ego to know that I would, but I'm seasoned enough to realize that the CFI probably thought the same thing.

Without falling into a debate about the turnback maneuver, I have, over the years, waxed and waned on two pre-takeoff habits. I'm currently waxing on cranking the shoulder harness straps down as tight as they'll go and never skipping them and deliberately telling myself that yes, this time, the engine really will quit. So until 500 feet or so, I sit in spring-loaded anticipation ready for that to happen, hoping I'll have that extra second or two to nose the airplane over and examine my options. I also pre-load the decision for a turnback, looking for that altitude when it might be possible, ignoring it if it isn't.

This may be utter self-delusion, but when you think of it, confidence springs from self-delusion and if it didn't, how many of us wouldn't even bother to get into airplanes in the first place?

Comments (51)

Paul,

A 1998 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association determined the three most decisive factors associated with pilot/passenger fatality in a general aviation accident are: 1) fire or explosion after landing; 2) failure to use lap belt/shoulder harness; and 3) incidents where the aircraft was completely destroyed.

In my time spent delivering safety seminars at Oshkosh, Sun 'n Fun, and elsewhere, I have argued that, to a certain degree, each one of these factors can be mitigated by the pilot. Shutting off fuel/electrical switches before landing, installing and using proper restraint systems, and managing the aircraft's energy in a crash are all techniques that pilots can use to improve their chances of survival. If the goal is simply to reduce the number of fatalities, pilots would do well to heed this information.

Posted by: ERIC BASILE | January 3, 2013 1:23 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately I suspect that pilots don't try to reduce their chance of a fatality. Instead, they focus on trying to save the airplane, and when that doesn't work it's too late to optimise the energy in the resulting crash.

Posted by: ANDY DAVIS | January 3, 2013 4:39 AM    Report this comment

I know that if I went flying today I would most likely have an accident because I have not had enough sleep. I don't have a death wish, so I'm staying on the ground. I will not be a fatality.

Posted by: Manuel Erickson | January 3, 2013 6:02 AM    Report this comment

I'm beginning to believe that it is literally "all in our minds." I attended a presentation at the last COPA Migration - sorry, don't remember the presenter's name - in which it was pointed out that as we get more and more excited our heart rate goes up and that there are known physiological break points in this process. First there is a heightened awareness that is probably beneficial but ultimately the heart rate gets to a point that we are back to our "lizard brain." There are mitigating things we can do - breathing exercises is one - that first responders are taught that can help keep the heart rate lower that it would otherwise be but the message seems to be that the link between heart rate and brain power is pretty much set.

Posted by: Bill Castlen | January 3, 2013 6:22 AM    Report this comment

This kind of situation is everyone's nightmare. Unless trained properly, which we're definitely not in GA, emergencies should be a natural reaction and habit pattern.

I highly recommend to everyone in GA:

1. Go to a good simulator, go at least once per year if not twice and do nothing but different emergencies and get the first few, critical steps, of major EP's down and go through each checklist and bring it to a logical conclusion.

2. If you can't get a good sim, then chair fly. Twice per year, we should completely review different emergency situations and go through the procedures so we have the competence, comfort and confidence to handle EP's.

3. Practices slow flight (MCA) and stalls 2x a year. The whole stall series only takes 10-15 minutes.

Use the FOM, not rumor for handling EP's.

Fly Safer - Live Longer (tm) !

Posted by: David Perdue | January 3, 2013 6:28 AM    Report this comment

I read an article about this general topic a while back. The author asked when (as a pilot) we made the decision the airplane was expendable in an emergency - especially an off airport landing. His answer was before you take-off make the decision the airplane is expendable, then if an emergency occurs the only decision the pilot has to make is where to land and how to land to survive. Let the insurance company worry about the airframe.

Posted by: Richard Norris | January 3, 2013 6:49 AM    Report this comment

re turnback, Shortly after buying my RV6A I checked out various stall speeds, and the turn-back scenario. Even knowing it was coming, it took 700 ft to just make a 180, I didnt think about getting completely back to runway alignment at the time, would hazard a guess at another 200 ft.

Posted by: Charles Heathco | January 3, 2013 7:28 AM    Report this comment

I'm a 20+ year police officer and commercial pilot. Something that isn't addressed but I think is critical is the survival mindset. We teach police officers all the time to never think that they'll die. Always fight to survive.

Pilots need the same mindset. Always fly the plane. Never give up. Always think that you will survive the emergency and have a plan to survive.

Posted by: Brian Buck | January 3, 2013 7:39 AM    Report this comment

But Brian - the point I make is that pilots not only have the "fight to survive", but they actually expect to land the airplane tidily. It's an ego thing. As Richard points out earlier, a much better mindset is that you're going to destroy the airplane but walk away.

Posted by: ANDY DAVIS | January 3, 2013 7:47 AM    Report this comment

Could part of the problem be the fact that there were two competent pilots on board? Was there confusion or conflict over who should fly or what should be done?

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 3, 2013 8:00 AM    Report this comment

With respect to the two controllable things mentioned, I suppose every pilot has some method for handling them. Mine follows: After experiencing brake failure on one side in an airplane many many years ago, I immediately got into the habit of fastening seat belts before starting engine. Since I am a mechanic and do engine ground run checks a lot, this happens with some frequency. I also fasten and snug up shoulder harness before starting taxi. Since that one surprise brake failure, I've never lost control on the ground but am now as prepared as possible if it ever happens again. Also, when flying a new-to-me airplane, once comfortable with stalls and slow flight I take the airplane to altitude to do multiple measurements of turn back altitude loss at 45 degree bank and 1.5 x S&L stall speed. Then I double that as the threshold for possible turn back on take-off power loss. The doubling hopefully will provide enough time for reaction and less than ideal execution.

Posted by: Thom Riddle | January 3, 2013 8:06 AM    Report this comment

Flight experience includes prior planning and study of others experiences. Emergency procedure training is a means and is necessary to aid survival in a forced landing. Innovation and invention during an incident is too late. My own survival incident confirmed to me its importance...conscious in a ball of fire so able to exit. Land the airplane. Though the engine is gone, flight control is normal to touchdown...no matter the landing area, rocks, trees, houses, parking lots. Minimum indicated-airspeed at touchdown as a normal landing. At some point at or after touchdown you will realize you have no control. You must think..."I am now a passenger. I have to be conscious when this thing stops." Do what ever will protect your head. Much more at http://safe-flight.net

Posted by: Robert Reser | January 3, 2013 8:10 AM    Report this comment

Decisions made in times of unexpected stress are suspect. The prime directive drilled into me was 'Do what is safest!'.

Practical case... I had a power failure on climbout in a 701 at 900 ft. Knew it was ok to turn back but noticed I was not going to clear the threshold lights. Thought I might be able to shift slightly to one side to miss them all. Then prime directive kicked in... just fly the plane. Only casualty was a threshold light

Posted by: Ray St-Laurent | January 3, 2013 8:21 AM    Report this comment

Aside from flying, my other "high thrills" hobby (though one that has had to sit by the wayside for the time being, due to a lack of money and time) is amateur auto racing. One of the things they mentioned early on in training was "never race your own car, race someone else's". The idea being, if you own the car you're racing, you'll spend too much time worrying about crashing your car that you won't be competitive, and paradoxically also more likely to crash.

Perhaps the same thing goes on in the mind of pilots who own (or otherwise have a financial stake in) their own plane. It's difficult to mentally transform your craft from an airplane to a crash survival tube.

As far as how to mitigate this factor, I don't know. It's not realistic to say "don't own your own plane", since I think at heart, anyone who flies regularly wants to own their own plane.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 3, 2013 8:24 AM    Report this comment

Having experienced a terrible crash I feel confident to say that training does count. I was at 1000 feet on downwind when the engine quit. I didn't make the runway but did have time to switch tanks, pump the throttle, pump the primer more than once but ran out of options. I never gave the doors, mags, master or "mayday" a thought when faced with a tree in the windshield. There is a point when your vision gets "tunneled" and nothing else matters. The FAA said I did a very nice dead stick crash into the base of a tree. I am alive and there are a lot of monday morning quarterbacks that will ask why I didn't make the runway fromdownwind with no engine. I can say that training left a lot to be desired in that department. I have 1400 hours and I fly 150 hours a year. All the stalls, steep turns, turn-back philosophizing in the world were no help to be as I descended at 500 feet per minute. I didn't panick, but could have reacted differently and maybe not suffered as much. I was not concious of trying to save the plane. Subsequent instruction by a very competent instructor has taught me to make the runway from literally anywhere in the pattern. I had to demonstrate as much to the FAA in order to get their blessing. Anyone who hasn't "walked the walk" can onle\y speculate on their reaction when faced with an imminent crash. Their best chance is to find an instructor who will actually simulate the crash as best he can.

Posted by: Les Gwyn-Williams | January 3, 2013 8:27 AM    Report this comment

When that Fan up front stops in the air the plane now belongs to the Insurance company.

Posted by: Michael Flanagan | January 3, 2013 8:45 AM    Report this comment

I've had 2 "incidents" in my flying career which could have had disastrous results, had I stopped flying the airplane before it stopped moving. Without going into unnecessary detail, I'm convinced that regardless of the scenario that is presented, the pilot who doesn't give up has a better chance at survival than one who just lets things happen at some point. We've heard the mantra, "fly the airplane all the way to the tie-down", and that mindset is essential to survival. Consequently, from early on, all pilots need to be trained so that their minds are programmed that no matter what happens, they must fly the airplane until it stops moving, whether it's benign taxiing or an engine quitting at 400' AGL.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | January 3, 2013 8:46 AM    Report this comment

Les raises an interesting point about realistic training for forced landings. I will toss out 2 possibilities. Since all glider landings are forced (not simulated), how about some dual flights in a glider with spoilers partly open to simulate a 500 fpm sink rate of a power plane.

Second possibility, could Microsfoft flight simulator help here at all. I don't have it so can just wonder since it is more widely available than gliders.

Posted by: Ray St-Laurent | January 3, 2013 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Richard M., One thing I've learned in the short time that I've been a CFI, is that the instructor is always in charge. At least, all the accident reports I've read where a CFI is on board, there's always something along the line of "contributing factor was the CFI not providing adequate supervision of *something*". The trouble in this case was it was a flight review, and one thing I was warned about after completing my initial CFI check-ride was "be careful conducting flight reviews in someone else's aircraft". There's an assumption a lot of CFI's make that the aircraft owner knows the systems and speeds of their aircraft, when that might not necessarily be true. I wonder if something similar happened in this case?

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 3, 2013 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Les raises an interesting point about realistic training for forced landings. I will toss out 2 possibilities. Since all glider landings are forced (not simulated), how about some dual flights in a glider with spoilers partly open to simulate a 500 fpm sink rate of a power plane.

Second possibility and less realistic, could Microsoft flight simulator help here at all? I don't have it so can just wonder since it is widely availables.

Posted by: Ray St-Laurent | January 3, 2013 8:50 AM    Report this comment

The human factors involved in the accident chain with indecision in an emergency situation being a major cause is something that should be discussed also.

I believe that nervous panic plays a role when the pilot is stricken with fear and freezes at the controls.

Most pilots are afraid to say that they were scared sh_tless during a critical moment when things were going to hell quickly, but somehow they survived by focusing on flying the airplane first.

Posted by: Robert Colby | January 3, 2013 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Part of the problem is the basic makeup of the human brain and how it responds to severe stress. Commonly, such stress causes a mental "tunnel vision," with narrowed focus of thinking and loss of perspective. It can even cause literal "freezing at the controls;" I suspect many experienced CFIs will recall primary students who froze up and had to be practically beaten to get their hands off the controls in a spin or the like. The only thing that can mitigate this innate brain problem is scenario-based training, as the airlines do it.

Posted by: Hunter Heath | January 3, 2013 9:54 AM    Report this comment

Every single one of my flights include a detailed pre-takeoff briefing, which includes takeoff emergency procedures. I instill this in all my students. If they skip it, my feet stays on the brakes until they complete it to satisfaction. Tough love. They've been thoroughly trained on the scenario of an engine failure on takeoff and none of them even thinks about turning back until they reach at least 1000 feet AGL. Too bad there are a LOT of pilots out there that never received this type of training, nor do they care to spend the extra time every flight to go over this important briefing. No surprise when accidents like this happens with fatalities.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | January 3, 2013 10:19 AM    Report this comment

Had a student make a right turn shortly after take off from Fremont, Nebraska's Runway 14! When asked why, he said "that direction is where all the open fields are in case of an engine failure!" This student had a plan! Always have a plan before take off and there will be no surprises! Bertil Aagesen

Posted by: Bertil Aagesen | January 3, 2013 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Paul;

There is a reason exceptionally well-trained highly proficient crews who fly repetitive flights, such as the blue angles, and 121 air crews going into and out of unusual fields like aspen and steamboat, perform exceptionally detailed takeoff and landing briefs.

These briefs are specifically designed to cognitively remind the pilot what decisions have already been made, so that they can take actions automatically if something should happen. EVERYTIME I get to run-up area, I brief the takeoff: "If not at 70kts by bravo abort, if not airborne by charlie taxiway, abort. engine out below 500 left 20 to field, etc". I can recite it in my sleep for many locations I fly, but I SAY IT OUT LOUD anyway, so that that action is "spring-loaded" as you say.

Failing to plan for any takeoff to that level of detail (which adds maybe a minute or so of time) sets one up to have to think about what to do, and lose precious seconds doing it.

Posted by: Avi Weiss | January 3, 2013 10:39 AM    Report this comment

I have survived power failure after take several times during my flying career. ones mind set is ,in my opinion, paramount in dealing with these situations. Use the "what if..." mind set and you will be well on the way to survival, also along with this is to have internalised your safety drills so that you react without having to think about what to do because if you have to spend time doing that the earth will have exacted the ultimate penalty for your hesitation before you respond. So far this approach has kept me and my passengers alive over the last 40+ years. BE PREPARED.

Posted by: Paul Parsons | January 3, 2013 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Here’s a thought that has crossed my mind several times regarding an engine failure on take-off and the turn back to the airport, assuming adequate altitude.

Normal pilot training teaches us to maintain the runway centerline after takeoff in a crosswind situation. This obviously requires us to crab into the wind after lift-off.

Suppose we have an engine failure at 1,000’, and are directly on the extended centerline of the runway. First we need to make a 180 degree turn back towards the runway. Then, another 90 – 120 degree turn the opposite direction to realign with the runway centerline.

Now, consider what the scenario would be if we did not crab into the wind on takeoff, and allowed our outbound flight path to drift with the crosswind. (Assuming there are no obstacle issues.) Now, if the engine failed at 1,000’, we would be off-set from the runway centerline, and would also be turning back into the wind as part of the turn-back. Now, the turn-back to the runway would be much closer to just 180 degrees, with minimal to no opposite turn needed to realign with the runway centerline.

Eliminating that second turn would save considerable altitude.

Is something wrong with this scenario, or is our training in need of some correction?

Posted by: Jerry Olson | January 3, 2013 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Jerry, At many of the airports I fly out of, not crabbing into the wind (particularly on a windy day) would mean getting perilously close to several hills and antennas. And in any case, depending on which runway is active, there isn't even room at some of them to make a turn back to the airport below a certain altitude. I'll stick to maintaining the extended center line.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 3, 2013 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Years ago I read a report (military) on the proper way to crash. It discussed a lot of varialbes, aerodynamics and Human Factors. But it ended with:

'Upon impact, plan to destory the least vital portions of the airframe in order to dissipate impact energy..."

At some point the question arose, what's the "least vital" portion of the airfram, upon which the author replied, the ONLY vital portion is the part your a** is strapped to.

Remember, hit the softest, cheapest thing you can find going as slow as possible and always fly it into the crash as far as possible (From the 10 Rules of Aviation and Bob Hoover).

Posted by: John Hyle | January 3, 2013 1:10 PM    Report this comment

Pls allow me to correct the following wrong statement: 'When that Fan up front stops in the air the plane now belongs to the Insurance company.'

The 'correct' way is: Once the prop is turning, it is not your airplane anymore. Now is the insurance's company. :)

Posted by: ENRIQUE TROCONIS | January 3, 2013 2:08 PM    Report this comment

Enrique methinks try : The fan in front is there to keep the pilot cool once it stops the pilot will start sweating.

Accidents (meaning no one at fault) sometimes happens, most times someone is at fault and most times it is the pilot. I used to oppose such an idea but upon thinking things through realized that the statement is true in the same way "Its the nut at the wheel that causes accidents" in motorcars. As the pilot you are responsible to ensure the aircraft is safe and you are safe for the flight. I could go on about how the automotive industry was forced to change their designs to ensure the nut at the wheel did not kill.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 3, 2013 3:44 PM    Report this comment

Sparky Immesson's mountain flying presentations had a slide show of mountain wrecks, and survivables were flown into whatever they hit with many little impacts, not one big sudden stop. Those 'little' impacts tore off wings, tail and gear, but the objective is to keep the cabin intact. The most robust part of most aircraft is where the gear and wings attach below the cabin, so you sit over the most bullet proof part.

Avoid a stall/mush at all costs. The well established concept that one is best off dropping a plane in - especially into water - is hogwash. It breaks backs. Humans simply cannot tolerate vertical Gs very well. But we can survive a whale of a horizontal load.

Shutting down fuel and electrical systems, getting the doors open etc take the most effort in my mind - stop what you are doing to survive after the show stops. Having a well trained passenger pick up the checklist not only calms everyone but it could make a huge difference in the outcome.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | January 3, 2013 4:36 PM    Report this comment

PT-2: I really like the suggestion that we should sit in the chair, checklist in hand and simulate how you will deal with various scenarios. Include how you will deal with passengers too, both helpful and some not so much.

There is an NTSB study of airbags like AMsafe in aircraft accidents, and unless the plane stops straight ahead they concluded that airbags contribute little to an otherwise 'unsurvivable' accident. Airplanes rarely stop straight ahead in an accident and good thing too: The pinball effect is all those little impacts slowing the plane. This apparently imparts a fair amount of yawing on impact where airbags are of no value.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | January 3, 2013 4:36 PM    Report this comment

At a Sun n' Fun seminar, Rod Machado asked: what's the most expensive airplane you've ever crashed? He then re-framed the question to remind that the only real expense is the (relatively negligible) deductible, regardless of airplane. That helped improve my mental preparation. Blue Skies!

Posted by: BRADLEY SPATZ | January 3, 2013 4:46 PM    Report this comment

I have posted this before but I survived a power failure at 400 feet. I don't write the following because I think I'm a better pilot than anyone else. It's just that I'm convinced that what saved me, my friend and my son were the drills before the incident, my time in gliders and pre-takeoff planning. The drills consisted of going flying with a certain instructor every six months. We would do touch and goes on a gusty, crosswind day for good measure and on climb out, he would overload me with tasks, "watch your airspeed", "watch that airplane", etc. At just the right moment, he would pull the power when I least expected it. If my immediate reaction was not to shove the yolk forward, he would yell into the headset "put the f**ing nose down now!" Why is this important? When the engine failed on that fateful day, my immediate reaction was to put the nose down. I literately heard his voice in my ears. I have read there are physical reasons why this is exactly the conditioned response training that is needed.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | January 3, 2013 7:27 PM    Report this comment

Part 2: Two other pieces of advice I received and acted on; one was to anticipate an engine failure and have a field picked out ahead of time. The second thing I remembered after the engine quit was "keep on flying until the crunching stops". We landed in a marsh and as we were sliding in the mud the tail wanted to come up. I pulled the yolk back to stop us from flipping.

And yes, the shoulder harness was snug did keep my noggin from hitting the panel. One last thing. It was extremely difficult to KEEP the nose down and maintain airspeed when the ground was rushing up at me. It took all my self control.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | January 3, 2013 7:28 PM    Report this comment

In the accident Paul B cites one has to wonder who was in charge. If two pilots cannot figure out how to set up a glide one wonders at a possible struggle for the controls. It highlights the need for a PIC briefing and how the flight will be done.

Charlie was a crusty CFI who started every flight review with something on the order of: 'Do not assume that I know what I'm doing, and do not assume that I know what you're doing. Tell me.' He added that "I will never try to scare you, but a surprise is fair game.' And finally 'I will never fail the engine without briefing it first. So if the engine quits and we didn't talk about it, then it's for real.' Then he divided up who flew and who ran the checklist in an emergency based on who's plane it was.

I thought Charlie's approach was an honest announcement that yes, he's a CFI but no, 'I don't know it all and cannot do it all, but together we'll survive.'

The accident report looks a lot like the Air France flight 447 report before finding the FDR: There isn't much to chew on. There's no mention of a fuel selector but if it was set to off that's not the question: Why didn't they glide into a field? This is one of those accidents where a psychological autopsy might reveal more than the wreckage.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | January 3, 2013 7:35 PM    Report this comment

Lots of good advice from lots of good pilots above. I would only add one thing, practice Plan B every instant while driving. If that car swerves, where do I go? If that semi beside me blows a tire, how do I react? Et cetera. If you are accustomed to keeping an active Plan B evolving every moment, it's easier to transfer the idea to flying.

(Unfortunately, it sure takes the fun out of texting!)

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | January 3, 2013 10:44 PM    Report this comment

Good advice Darryl. We all can extend the concept of 'defensiveness'...whether driving, flying, sailing, skydiving, swimming, walking...you get the idea. I was fortunate to have a flight instructor who trained me from hour zero to plan for my next landing...unexpected or not.

Posted by: Rob Hughes | January 4, 2013 7:59 AM    Report this comment

Thomas airbags in cars are pretty useless unless you are wearing a seat belt as well. You tend to slide over the top of the bag through the windscreen. So I agree with you about the airbags in aircraft.

Anyone drive or have driven motorcycles in their life will know that to stay alive you treat all car drive as morons (no offence meant)and drive defensively expecting the worse all the time if you at anytime lose concentration your dead. Treat flying the same.

Once after run-up and lined up I noticed the oil pressure gauge doing a tiny fluctuating I immediately cancelled the flight and return the aircraft. The CFI was furious but I stuck to my guns. The next flight that aircraft did, the engine stop in mid flight and the aircraft was written off. Whats the saying "The Devil is in the detail"

Make a hole in the sky for us please, we've been water bound and everything in the country is now floating

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 4, 2013 8:48 AM    Report this comment

In an engine out situation on takeoff, you don't "land straight ahead" you crash straight ahead. Hard to decide which crash would have been survivable without more information.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 4, 2013 9:36 AM    Report this comment

Open fields and such are obvious options, but what about airports surrounded by dense development, like in the LA basin? CPM is a "postage stamp" in the middle of houses. There are no "good" choices, but I would head for a street, even if I might catch overhead wires. When I trained at LGB, I always had a plan, but there were many options due to the size and layout. Very long runways made straight ahead attractive if failure was soon after TO. A much less than 180 was also possible, given the sheer size of the airport. From 25L the 405 freeway was also right there.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | January 4, 2013 10:48 AM    Report this comment

I googled the subject accident, and missing from the NTSB report are two eye whitness items. take them for what they're worth. One is that the first landing was 'very hard,' whatever that means as reported by another pilot. Carb ice? Possible airframe damage?

The flight originated from a relatively inland airport and the mishap occurred at a coastal airport. The engine was a Lycoming, which are generally less prone to carb ice than small Continentals, but I've been seduced by ice-free engines that form ice in the right conditions.

Then, after 4 minutes 'at high idle' they took off. Could they have been trying to melt carb ice and failed? Or were they just talking about what was next? They took off and according to another witness, made a 180 during which the engine either 'sputtered, then quit; or just quit. Then it 'nosed in,' Which of course is the truly inexplicable part. It would be interesting to see what the lawyers speculate was going on.

Two additional tidbits:

This is a tandem-seat aircraft and the CFI was in the back seat. One wonders at what he could see, what controls and instruments he had available etc. If the plane didn't have dual controls all the CFI could do was yell.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | January 4, 2013 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Cont'd: The CFI was ex-military with a centerline restriction on his license. Not an issue for a single engine plane you say? Here's an observation: I learned to fly at a military aero club with an F15 Eagle wing on the same field. The 'Ego drivers' would visit with their shiny new FAA license to get the centerline restriction removed. A checkout in a C-310 of 414 would do. The CFIs complained that guys with thousands of hours flying jets with the yaw damper engaged made them fairly 'foot lazy' and flew mostly with feet flat on the floor. A few candidates had to postpone twins and move to a single in order to learn dutch rolls, chandelles and lazy 8s where they weren't scaring the instructors so much with funny footwork. Not exactly something to brag about at the O-club, but reality.

Now put a CFI with limited rudder rudder experience behind a dead engine in a strange plane on a turn back to land. What could possibly go wrong?

Posted by: Thomas Connor | January 4, 2013 5:00 PM    Report this comment

The one time it happened to me, I had a 150 spin a bearing at 30 ft off a grass strip. I remember thinking a couple things, one is how glad I was to have that CFI insurance policy in place.

It was kind of cool that the student I had on board aced his checkride a couple months later. The DPE mentioned that the applicant was very cool and collected during the simulated engine failure portion of the ride, until my student explained to him that we had done it for real!

In the above accident report, I've got a bad feeling that there might not have been a decision made ahead of time as to who is flying in the event of an engine failure.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 4, 2013 7:42 PM    Report this comment

Thomas, the Decathlon would have had dual controls. I can't imagine they would have been removed. The rear seater has stick, rudder and throttle and everything else is done from the front.

I also found a half-dozen news articles on the accident, one of which included a photo. As the accident report noted, the airplane impacted in an open field, upright and possibly level. Not sure if this indicates stall, stall/mush or just loss of control.

Last, a Google Earth of the airport area reveals open fields to the south for at least a mile or more, then many more open fields bounded by wooded areas.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 5, 2013 5:48 AM    Report this comment

Forget the plane save yourself. After almost 50 years of flying and instructing I have seen many emergency decisions based on saving the plane. I have always taught save yourself, you can get another plane. Owner pilots seem to top that list.

Posted by: Wiilard Legate | January 5, 2013 6:38 PM    Report this comment

To survive a forced landing in a congested area, I often thought it might be best to flare the plane very high, lose as much forward energy as possible, stall and fall to the ground. The idea is that I'd rather fall to the ground with 40 kts or less forward energy than hit a high tension wire, a parked car or even a curb at 60 kts or greater. Any opinions on this?

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | January 6, 2013 8:38 AM    Report this comment

Depends on too many variables to really decide it's best for every circumstance.

For example, without 26G seats, you could be in for far more vertical loads than would be survivable without injury using that strategy. Depends on the surface, too. On a hard surface like a paved parking lot or dry, hard soil, you'll skid forward, dissipating energy. On softer surfaces, the accident record clearly shows the airplane tends to dig into the soil and lose energy quickly, which is not good.

Diamond likes to demonstrate "parachute" mode, which is run the trim to max up elevator and let the airplane just bobble and sink, but it won't stall. Descent is about 300 FPM, which would be survivable, albeit not pleasant.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 6, 2013 12:00 PM    Report this comment

Life is full of hazards, to survive the longest we need the "defensiveness" attitude, it applies to all walks of life, expect the worst, be relieved when it does not happen. My worst in flight incident was an electrical fire, there was a snap, then smoke was pouring out below the panel, without thinking my finger shut off the master instantly, the fire stopped, I was able to land without any further problems. I remember reading about a year ago of a plane who's pilot was on the radio declaring an emergency for an in flight electrical fire, everyone died. I was surprised at the time that no one commented that he should have turned the master off immediately, and just got the plane on the ground. Every time I drive around a corner on a single lane road I expect that a car is coming the other way, I live on a five mile single lane road, this attitude has prevented and or minimized the effects of many crazy drivers coming the other way over thirty years. As mentioned before by some one else, I rode a motorcycle for years early in my life and learned of the importance of defensive driving then. life will throw every kind of scenario at us, expect and prepare for the worst, you will not be surprised, just relieved when it does not happen. Steve Pearl

Posted by: Steve Pearl | January 7, 2013 5:25 PM    Report this comment

When I read the comment " Once the prop is turning, it is not your airplane anymore. Now is the insurance's company." I understood the logic but felt uncomfortable nonetheless.

Why own an aircraft? Is it to admire at the tie downs? Is it to pull from the hangar and polish on a nice day? If while aloft the aircraft belongs to the insurance company, why not rent in the first place? We all know it's cheaper.

But it's not a satisfying to fly someone else's plane. Not even close. That plane is mine, it belongs to me, it is not the FAA's or the bank's or the insurance company's. Breaking the surly bonds is a wonderous thing and together my plane and I embrace that joy. Thus I have an implicit need to preserve it whenever and however possible, obviously that includes preserving my own life and my capability to control the craft no matter what.

Otherwise, I may as well wax and polish a British motorcar.

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | January 7, 2013 10:01 PM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?

Register

Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration

« Back to Full Story