Mark Strub had survived a low-flying accident that claimed the life of his passenger, and then he pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle and disorderly conduct. News of the first U.S. pilot jailed for an aircraft accident nearly set a record for hits on AOPA.org. That evening, I wrote Strub a letter and mailed it to the Wood County Jail in Wisconsin Rapids. I wanted to know more about the accident, and I wanted to learn about Strub. Was he a perennial screw-up with a history of reckless conduct, or a solid guy who made a terrible mistake?
How pervasive is low-flying among general aviation pilots? YouTube is full of video images of GA pilots behaving badly, and NTSB accident statistics show it’s been a common theme over many, many years.
Strub had been following the Wisconsin River in his Stearman at tree-top height on a summer day in 2004 and struck powerlines. He escaped, but his passenger, a 39-year-old wife and mother who had hoped for a thrilling but safe jaunt in an open-cockpit plane, died on the spot.
I met Strub at his rural home and found him candid, forthright and brutally direct. He doesn’t hide from his actions or make excuses. He lives with the life-altering consequences of his accident every day. And he would do anything to go back to that summer day four years ago and alter the outcome.
Among the AOPA publications staff, we had a rigorous debate about whether to tell Strub’s story at all. It’s sad and sobering, and publishing it is a stretch for an organization chartered to promote general aviation. But low-flying accidents have plagued aviation for generations–and we concluded that Strub’s bitter experience has a better chance of actually improving pilot behavior than all the preaching, accident statistics, and dry recitation of federal aviation regulations ever could.
It was a tough call–but I believe it was the right one.
And when you read about Mark Strub, do you shake your head and conclude he got what he deserved? That his punishment should have been more severe? Or do you close your eyes and think, “There but by the grace of God go I?”
Read the story online.
Tags: Dave Hirschman