Probable Cause #65: Bad Conditions, Poor Planning
This article originally appeared in IFR Refresher, Nov. 2007.Every pilot wants to avoid tough winter weather, especially icing conditions, even if that means delaying a flight or canceling one altogether. But some pilots are foolish enough to think that last-minute weather decisions will save them during a poorly-planned IFR approach. Poor IFR skills during a long day of flying in December 2004 took the lives of three people when a Piper Saratoga crashed executing the GPS approach to the Glenwood Municipal Airport (GHW) at Glenwood, Minn., about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The day started at 0615 (CST) when the pilot called the Miami Automated Flight Service Station and filed three IFR flight plans. The first was from Page Field at Fort Myers, Fla., (FMY) to Albany, Ga., (ABY). The second was from ABY to Mount Vernon, Ill., (MVN), and the third from MVN to Glenwood. The briefer provided weather information for the first two flights, but after the briefer described a tornado watch and convective SIGMET for the route of flight between ABY and MVN, the pilot declined further information. Perhaps he planned to check the weather at Albany. The leg between Fort Myers and Albany went as planned. At 0945 the pilot called the Macon AFSS and requested an abbreviated weather briefing for the second leg from ABY to MVN, but again did not ask the briefer about the weather on the third leg. In fact, there is no record that the pilot ever checked the weather for the third leg to Glenwood. Departing from Mount Vernon, the Saratoga pilot contacted Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center at 1342 (CST) and asked for his clearance to Glenwood and was cleared there at 10,000 feet. At 1550 the flight was handed off to Minneapolis Center. At 1600 the controller queried the pilot about flight conditions. The pilot responded, "We're kinda in a little haze here. I think the tops may be only about two thousand or three thousand above us and a lot of thin clouds below us." He added, "We haven't picked up any ice yet. The outside temperature shows minus seven Celsius." The flight appeared to continue normally and at 2236 Minneapolis cleared the aircraft to descend from 10,000 feet to 6000 feet, and shortly thereafter at pilot's discretion to 4000 feet. A few minutes later, while passing 6000 feet, the pilot asked for a climb back to 7000 feet because he was "picking up a fair amount of ice." The controller asked for another pilot report on flight conditions. The pilot responded that he had rime on the windshield and "rime and mixed" icing on the wings. When prompted he categorized it as "light," and said the outside air temperature was minus 2 degrees Celsius. He reported that he broke out of the tops of the clouds at 6400 feet on the way to 7000 feet. Twenty minutes later, the pilot requested the GPS approach to Runway 33 at Glenwood and also asked to remain at 7000 feet as long as possible due to known icing.