Dave Hirschman

Jailed pilot story: How pervasive is low-flying?

June 19, 2008 by Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor

Last winter, a short news item on AOPA.org about a Wisconsin biplane pilot being sent to jail for a fatal accident got a lot of attention from members.

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.

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32 Responses to “Jailed pilot story: How pervasive is low-flying?”

  1. Steven Washer Says:

    This was the single most depressing story I have ever read in my life. I almost turned in my Angel Flight credentials after reading it. To think that this man tried to deliver more value than he had to, and in so doing caused the death of someone, is almost too horrible to imagine.

    He made a mistake in judgement based on his aerobatic training, familiarization with the terrain, and comfort with an airplane he had lovingly restored by his own hand.

    His situation is heartbreaking. He clearly doesn’t give a damn about the legal consequences nearly as much as the emotional ones. The shortsighted people who wish him ill should walk one inch in his shoes.

    Did he get what he deserved? Who deserves to suffer (as he will) forever for an accident? But two facts are clear. The accident was preventable and many lives will be forever lessened because of it.

  2. Ryan Says:

    Sometimes, despite rigorous preparation and the best of intentions, accidents happen.

    At those times, if we are fortunate, forgiveness may follow.

    Perhaps this should be one of those times.

    In Memoriam,

    ~R.L.L.M.

  3. Rich Nasser Says:

    I think it was very good on AOPA’s part to publish this article. As the blog points out, this demonstrates how great intentions can never pre-empt safety and the FARs.

    It sounds as if Mr. Strub is a nice guy and characterizes many qualities found in GA folks.

    We need to be safe and legal every minute of the flight!

    Thanks

    Rich

  4. Bill Says:

    Every time we step into the cockpit or cabin of an airplane, where is the guarantee that the flight will end safely? Aviation has become so common place and safe that the expectation is that an accident will not happen on my particular flight. Without going into detail, we can all think of accidents that have occurred over the years where there was no logical reason or fault that caused an accident. Pilots can by their actions fly in a manner that lends to a higher likelihood of something bad happening. I guess the FARs are designed to prevent us from entering those arenas. I can also fly safely and follow all the rules and still be involved in a mishap that I did not cause. Mr Strub screwed up; the plane he was piloting hit power lines he should have seen and avoided leading to a crash and a fatality.

    I don’t think it was right for Mr Strub to have been charged with vehicular homicide because the standard for conviction is for Mr Strub to have acted “with an intent to cause damage” or that injury or death “would probably result” from his actions. Why does flying low neccesarily lead to an accident? I guess I, and numerous other pilots, have just been lucky all these years because we have never crashed a plane because of flying low; whether is was Ag flying, a military jet on a low-level, or just because.

    An FAA investigator later cited Strub for “careless and reckless” flying, defining the river as a “congested area,” and said Strub violated minimum safe altitude rules that require pilots to fly at least 1,000 feet above or 2,000 feet horizontal distance from obstacles. That sounds like an FAA investigator trying to build a case together with the illegality of Mr Strub taking $8 for fuel from an insisting rider.

    This accident was truly a tragedy. Sounds like the punishment Mr Strub received in the plea bargain is appropriate because of the fatality. However, the double jeopardy (my opinion) of a civil trial where Mr Strub will probably be financially destroyed is another impending personal disaster. What will that accomplish?

  5. Bob Says:

    “There but by the grace of God go I”

    It reinforces my contempt for prosecutors and other law enforcement officials such as the one Strub encountered. I have the impression the prosecutor is a’righteous’ person who feels he knows more that his fellow man and is a person who appears to be enhancing his own career at the expense of others. We can only pray that the good Lord will find a way to provide him Strub with a jury for the civil trial that will result in the whole affair being thrown out of court. I have personal knowledge of two incidences where the jury smiled at the lawyers during the trial and then voted to impose no penalties and effectively threw the case(s) out of court.

    I am also concerned with the FAA investigators that saw fit to charge him with ‘reckless operation’. More and more I find that the members of the FAA entrusted with oversight of aviation safety actually fall into the same category of person as the scum bag prosecutor that conducted the case. I feel sure that their actions resulted in uncessarily adding to the grief of the passengers family by not presenting an accurate picture of what happened and the complete background information.

    While the FAA is protected by civil service the prosecutor is not; one hopes the good people in the area would cut short his carrer in the next election.

  6. lee simkins Says:

    Mr. Strub, I hope that you can continue to live, work and fly knowing that accidents, both small and tragic, shape all our lives. All of us know that every day brings risk and reward. And both drivers and passengers make conscious decisions every time we take to the road, water or air.

    I am disheartened at our nation and people’s predisposition towards litigation, and seeming inability to take responsibility for their/our decisions. Your passenger surely knew both the joy, and risk of flying, and decided to take that risk; we can only hope that her family comes to realize that.

    Thank you for sharing your story, and my prayers and best wishes go with you and all affected.

    Lee

  7. Peter Says:

    A very well written article about a very sad accident. As an active Angel Flight pilot, I often give thought to the idea that the best traits of human nature, which are generosity and charity, can be completely destroyed in one tragic moment.

    In my opinion it will be this continued, ill-conceived vilification of airplane accidents by prosecutors and lawyers looking for the quick payout that eventually contributes to the demise of charitable flights.

    My thoughts and prayers go out first to the family of the woman who died, but they also go out to this very generous and charitable fellow pilot who had no intention other than to share with others what he had. He is NOT the criminal the state and the media have made him out to be.

  8. Ken Calman Says:

    There are two issues in the decisions of the FAA on this accident that we should get clarification on: How was it decided that the river was a “congested area”? And why wasn’t a passenger allowed to pay up to half of his/her share of the cost of the flight?

    Those two decisions make it sound as if someone had an agenda other than fairness in this case.

    Yes, but for the Grace of God, there goes I. Show me a pilot with no mistakes in judgement, and no incident of some kind in his history.

  9. Dave Says:

    This is one of the tough things he will have to live with the rest of his life.
    But as we all are as PIC, we are responsible for our actions and doubly so when we take someone else up.
    However well intentioned to give a “little extra” he infact did not maintain situational awareness and was not on the fork of the river he thought he was. This is reckless. When the young lady and family approached for this ride – I would expect that they anticipated the aerobatic flight, some rolls and a loop at altitude, versus a what happened.
    Having a family myself I look at their plight.
    Those calling for the case to be thrown out – would not do so if they were on the other side.
    If your wife or daughter went on a ride at a show – and the pilot decided to go buzz the river and killed them – are you seriously trying to say – - that your position would be “Aw Shucks” and kick the ground??? Then load up the children and go to the coronor to identify Mom on the slab……..Then say “Well she knew it was risky” or would you be a bit more angry and ask “What in the Hell was this guy thinking?” From his comments it sounds like he has accepted that there is retribution to be made for a really stupid decision that he made that cost others their life.
    All are right that we make mistakes – - but the concept that this whole thing should be dismissed and the family just should suck it up and go home is not taking responsibiltiy for our actions and is irresponsible.

  10. Jon Stark Says:

    There’s an even bigger issue with the state charges, which were based upon negligent operation of a vehicle. But the definition of vehicle doesn’t include aircraft. In Wisconsin,

    ” ‘Vehicle’ means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except railroad trains.”

    This makes about as much sense as charging him for speeding in his Stearman when he flies over a highway at 110 mph.

    Every accidental death is tragic, but not every mistake is a crime.

  11. Robert Hall Says:

    On a wonderfully clear blue sky day I flew my C182 to a friends grass strip. It was late October, the dew was still on the grass and the winds were lite. As good of a friend that
    any man can have hopped in and we took off for breakfast.

    Several hours later after an enjoyable visit, a good breakfast and one of those flights that
    take away your sense of “pay attention, fly the plane you have a demanding landing to make” we returned to the 1900 foot strip. I will skip the details, but safe to say, I did not
    extend the downwind enough to slow down the plane, the turn onto final was too tight
    and too close to the end of the strip. Only 20 degrees flaps were used. I was too high and too fast. I forced her down anyway, landed long and too fast. The overrun was a
    country road two side ditches and one very strong set of low electric lines in a bean field.

    Because of the lines I did not try to abort. Under the lines the nose dug into the soft dirt, the tail went up and caught the power lines which kept us from fliping over. We walked
    away from one very beautiful, but badly damaged Skylane.

    But for the Grace of God there go I. This keeps me humble. Long ago there was a terrible takeoff accident between two jumbo jets on the Canary Islands. I recalled then thinking,
    if the “big boys” have accidents then one can never be too careful. Sure enough, I was correct. Our heart and desires can be so pure to do right in flying, but the judgement can
    be flawed or rusty in the sometimes unforgiving sea of flight.

    Mr. Strub, may you find the purpose and peace you seek and the family of the lost find
    forgiveness.

    I rebuilt the Skylane and have since flown it for 14 years and sometimes with my good friend, even once returning to the same grass strip with the FAA. I have been fortunate.

  12. Tim Hattwick Says:

    I echo the opinions of most of the pilots here. I see a series of seemingly “minor” bad decisions that led up to a terrible result. This seems to be how most accidents occur. I don’t think any of us is immune to this type of situation; just that each of us has a different decision tree to get there. We all hope that it never happens to us, and train to guard against it.
    Mr. Strub made a terrible mistake. But there was no malicious intent. Yet, the prosecutor chose to treat his aircraft as if it were a passenger car on a local highway, and Mr. Strub a drunk driver. Even though we strive to make flight safe, there is risk inherent every time we leave the ground, moreso than a car. Mr. Strub will have to answer for his actions in a civil court, which is what civil litigation is for. I don’t think anyone would say this whole thing should be “dismissed”. However, he should never have been charged or prosecuted with a criminal offense. I may be wrong, but I’m willing to bet the prosecutor is not a pilot, and probably doesn’t care or understand GA. If so, perhaps he should have educated himself first. I wonder if the FAA advised him? Regardless, it is apparent from his actions that a “hard liner” reputation was a key component here. Sadly, any attorney can be elected or hired as a prosecutor; wisdom and insight are not necessarily job pre-requisites.
    It is particularly sad that this attitude exists in Wisconsin, home of EAA Airventure at Oshkosh.

  13. Dick Chev. Says:

    Boycan I see both sides of this one! I live in a desert area where there is no congestion, no persons or property. I am in the habit of flying lowand have had close encounters of the feathered kind more than once. I also have contempt for our public servants who use their power to victimize us when they can. I quit participating in Young Eagles because I feared the engine would fail and I might kill some kid whose parents ignorantly signed a waiver assuming small aircraft were safe, just like the big ones – which they are not. Try to get the EAA to tell you how many fatalities have occurred in their program. While Strub’s mistake is more like an auto fatality caused by bad judgement than a crime, he like all of us must take responsibility and if that means he is wiped out financially, that’s not as bad as the price his passinger paid for trusting someone with poor judgement.

  14. Paul Quinn Says:

    It is sad to see there are still trigger happy prosecutors who appear to be soley interested in their career regardless of who they may harm along the way. Sad to say O.J. got away with murder and this guy is prosecuted for an accident. Very, very sad.

  15. Tucker Brugh Says:

    Strub shouldn’t be allowed to fly an aircraft, let alone re-acquire his pilots license, ever again.

    I realize that he received many letters of sympathy and support from others. I can’t be one of them. His careless actions with an aircraft killed this person. There is a much higher level of responsibility (and danger) that comes with flying……rather than driving a car or in a boat.

    Power lines are strung along rivers, canyons and in passes all over the country. To risk flying that low, only invited danger. This was no accident………he made a critical mistake in judgement that cost another person her life.

    Respectfully submitted in disagreement of any sympathy or support by AOPA for this persons flying activities in the future.

  16. Peter Says:

    It was good to publish the article.
    It just reminds the rest of us that buzzing can kill someone.

    And many of us can think of the “Near Death Experiences” we have had,
    and not be so judgemental that we “damn him.”

    Fault him for being stupid? Well, yes (and now he has to live with it).

    It is such a tragedy, I hope I do not sound judgemental, or preachy.
    And if I do sound preachy, it is because I am preaching to meself.
    I understand Why he did it; I wish I could have been there to
    say “not a good idea.”

    Here is how I see it:

    The wires were “hanging from 70 foot poles.”

    He was not flying at 500 feet as maybe he shloud have
    incase he flew over some folks fishing on the river.
    He was not even at 100 feet.

    He was flying low For Himself.
    You are not “Adding Value” at 50 feet or less.

    And, I am thinking that this was not the first time
    he was flying (very) low level up the river.
    He thought he was further down the river?
    That says to me that he did it before
    where there were no power lines.
    Flew low there, next time lower, next time lower.
    That makes it a matter of odds, also.

    Hint. for your second and lower time,
    get a map and look at the topography,
    look for powerlines, towers,
    and how to identify where you are at different points.

    Am I being to tough by saying that
    his flying days should be over, permanently, by law.
    There should be something in the Regs that says:
    If you kill someone because you are doing some yahoo act,
    your flying days are over, forever.
    Forget that “he learned his lesson.” A girl is dead.
    How can he now fly and NOT be distracted?

    In truth, the published penalty would be for the rest of us,
    as a reminder, just like the article was.

    On another point, the $8 is bogus. Does not even cover the fuel.
    The prosecutor is just trying to make sure something sticks.

    Ever say to yourself, “Oh man, that was not a good idea.”
    Come on, we all have.

    Next time, ask yourself:
    “If I do this, what could go wrong,
    and is there another viable option or a way to incease the odds in my favor.”
    It is that Risk Assessment thing we all find so boring, but which keeps us so alive.

    “Hey, Watch This!” rarely invoves any real forethought or flight planning.
    You think: “they make for some great War Stories, though” (if you live).
    Military “War Story” = “I should be dead”
    Civilian “War Story” = “I should be dead, because I am dumder than a nail.”

  17. No Name Says:

    Your facts are not correct. Strub was not the first U.S. pilot jailed for a domestic aircraft accident. I know for a fact that I was incarcerated in the 80′s for one.

    The story is sad and I understand more than most what he is going through. There will be a great deal of pressure placed on the county prosecutors by greedy attorneys who are only looking for a payoff.

    My accident ruined a promising career in aviation. I only hope that he will be treated fairly in the eyes of his friends and family.

  18. A Responsible Pilot Says:

    Frankly, I’m embarrassed, and somewhat ashamed, to be associated with an organization that writes or circulates an article slanted in this manner.

    Except for the facts that it wasn’t night, Mr. Strub wasn’t a congressman, Mr. Strub was ultimately incarcerated, Mr. Strub wasn’t drunk and that Mr. Strub didn’t run away for nine hours or so after the accident, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference between this and the Ted Kennedy-Mary Jo Kopechne incident in July, 1969.

    Mr. Strub didn’t know where he was; he ran his plane into something at low altitude; and someone died as a result of those actions.

    Shame on AOPA for trying to mitigate Mr. Strub’s ignorance, poor headwork and sub par airmanship!

    Pilots like Mr. Strub who are routinely busting restricted areas, wandering unknowingly into the Washington, D.C. ADIZ and perpetrating unauthorized runway excursions are much of the reason why GA is fighting such an uphill battle in both the public’s eye and on Capitol Hill.

    The bottom line for me is that if someone does something stupid (and illegal), it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he’s subsequently ridiculed for it and arrested.

    Until AOPA ceases its glorification of irresponsible pilots like this — and instead calls them to task — my friends and I who go out of our way to act responsibly in the GA realm will no longer even consider further donations to AOPA’s PAC.

    Your “After the Accident” article makes me ashamed to admit my GA involvement when in the company of enlightened people.

    Thanks a lot!

  19. Mike Az. Says:

    The day will come when GA flying is banned, because of incidents like this, or busting ADIZ and restricted airspace, and organizations like AOPA trying to spin it as just an accident.
    How am I supposed to convince non-pilots that GA flying is safe when willful violations and negligence lead to unnecessary deaths!
    I have no sympathy for Strub, he should never be allowed to fly again, and question if AOPA is holding onto the past (barnstorming) at the risk of losing the future.
    I fly GA mostly for business, usually on an IFR flight plan. But when I do a sightseeing flight, I never break the regs.
    Rivers are not “open water” and 70 feet is too low regardless! As my dad used to say, this was an accident waiting to happen. And a mother is dead because of it.

  20. Greg Paige, CFII Says:

    How soon we forget the hazardous attitudes training we received upon getting our private pilot certificates. I’m stunned by the number of respondents who feign sympathy for the pilot who caused the accident by his own recklessness. Here is a fellow aviator who offered flights to the general public and did not take the most basic precaution (having altitude above terrain) in order to avoid harm. A passenger who probably understood that some risk was involved in flying, but who also couldn’t comprehend that the pilot by trying to “give her something more” would put her at much greater risk by flying low over the river. I find it shameful that Mr. Strub would attempt to characterize his low flying as being for the benefit of the passenger. I expect if he had asked beforehand whether the passenger would also like to try “buzzing” the river with the understanding that this would increase the safety risk, the passenger would have declined that portion of the flight.

    Here’s my personal take on the hazardous attitudes:

    Anti-authority – don’t tell me what to do. Obviously the pilot did not have minimum altitude to safely land the airplane. His experience shows that landing on a river is not safe.

    Invulnerability – it won’t happen to me. Well, he didn’t think he would get injured while performing a risky flight maneuver. ‘Nuf said.

    Macho – let’s just lift the text right out of the advisory circular: “When things go well, the pilot is apt to think that’s good luck. When things go badly, the pilot may feel that someone is out to get me, or attribute it to bad luck.”

    Luck had nothing to do with this. The pilot took risks and a passenger paid with her life.

    Mr. Strub doesn’t show any inkling of responsibility for what he’s done. “It was an accident.”. Well, yes. It was an accident caused by poor judgment on the part of the pilot. This man should not be allowed to fly again because with this attitude, the next fatality will not be his fault either…

  21. Yves Francoeur Says:

    I agree with most of the statements of facts above. The PIC could have prevented the crash. He lacked situational awareness (didn’t know where he was). He was thrill flying the plane at a ridiculously low altitude (50 to 70 feet). However, the passenger sought out the ride, there was no commercial advertisement claiming professionalism and she came to pay with her life for her trust into a complete stranger. She had a reasonnable expectation to be kept safe but she took a risk, consciously or not!

    The nitpicking about the $8 accepted from a different rider is in my opinion completely irrelevant to the case. Calling the river a congested area seems far fetched as long as there were no fishermen, canoeist or other traffic on it. It is unconscionable that the FAA acted as it did.

    The criminal case was going to be won by the PIC. I cannot imagine a jury finding intent to injure. The procecutor knew it and his lawyer knew it too. In this case, the defense lawyer seemed extraordinarely meek. The PIC should have never taken the plea. As to the civil case, it is incredible how lawyers are allowed to sue everybody remotely connected with anything. I believe they do that as a tactic to justify a weak case. The jury will have to find “someone” responsible. Given the choices, they’ll find the PIC responsible here. As stated above, I also agree he was wreckless and responsible but she was as well and his liability should be limited.

    As a student pilot, I once became disoriented and was not 100% sure where I was on a cross country flight. I was flying at a safe altitude and never crossed into airspace I shouldn’t have. There was no consequence. However, I realised on that flight that errors in judgment occur and that I was far from immune from them. Articles such as this one and other accident depictions show that consequences can be severe in some cases. The human toll is compounded by the vindictive actions of the FAA, lawyers and victim families.

    That, my friends, is the reason I gave up on flying and never got my private pilot license…

  22. Stefan Werner Says:

    I want to thank AOPA for publishing the interview. I do feel for the family that lost their wife and mother in what was an avoidable accident. That said I also feel for Mr.Strub who is definitely not the criminal the state and the FAA made him out to be.

    Was his conduct as a pilot exemplary on that day. No it was certainly not, but I am amazed at the harsh words from some here. Don’t fool yourself, if you could really honestly review all flights you ever made you would find there is one thing or another that someone else would consider reckless or at least risky. You did go flying after all…much safer to be sitting on your soap box.

    I am an Angel Flight Pilot as well as some of the others above and have thought about exactly that. Leave it to the lawyers and “aviation experts” and everyone of us is sure to be liable in one way or the other. The fact that the other organisations that just happened to be there that day even can be part of the civil suit is wrong.

    We do take that into consideration on every mission. In the flight planning phase, in the preparation of the airplane and even more so in the go-no go decision. Flights that I would have no problem departing if it were only myself in the Saratoga I cancel or delay on Mission flights because I have to be even better, safer and more “by the book” than on any other flight when someone entrusts their life to me.

    Not because I don’t want to get sued…but I don’t want to be responsible in any shape for someone elses loss. Accidents do happen and are if they are indeed accidents unavoidable if every reasonable precaution is taken and risk minimized to the extend that can be expected from a private person.

    Mr Strub should have stayed at a known safe altitude absolutely. And especially if he was not 100% sure that he was in the correct portion of the river.
    He knows that, if not before he does now. And would likely give anything to get a do-over on that day.
    AOPA printing this article hopefully is enough to make each one of us think. Think about how we fly, where we may have cut a corner to save, time, fuel or money and about if any of our past flights when reviewed by a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks would still look so perfect as we thought at the time.

  23. Carl Bastiani Says:

    Who is bringing the civil suit?

  24. anonymous Says:

    i personally knew Strub and he was a great, helpful, kind, compassionate man. he never meant to hurt anyone or anything he flew with or intentionally put their lives in jeopardy!! why should he be labeled a criminal for sharing his passion with another person? accidents happen, and im not saying he was being a perfectly safe pilot, but something horrible like this could happen in any kind of vehicle. his life is obviously ruined, and he probably thinks about this every day of his life. If i could i would go back and change the past for him, the woman killed, and everyone who has been dragged into this! the family of the woman who died has all of my sympathy, compassion, and sadness. God bless the woman killed. God bless and help strub through everything also, he was giving free rides at a children’s miracle network event tho, he wasnt trying to be a hot shot show off. why should anyone barely involved get dragged into this and sued?? that is not right. Strub’s financial life is ruined, and thats just ridiculous and greedy to sue more people, more suing isnt going to change the past or make anything better for anyone. he has taken full responsibility for his actions and this will haunt him the rest of his life. thank u for publishing this great article for other fellow pilots to read and think about every time they take off. life is a blessing, dont take it for granted.

  25. R. M. DOLIVO Says:

    AOPA SHOULD LOOK INTO THE POSSIABILITY OF MANDATING POWER COMPANIES TO INSTALL ORANGE BALLS ON POWER LINES THAT STREACH ACROSS BODIES OF WATER. I’M SURE IN MR. STRUB’S CASE HE WOULD HAVE SPOTTED ORANGE BALLS IN TIME TO AVOID THE WIRES. I LIVE ON A RIVER AND IT’S A FAVORITE ROUTE FOR ULTRALIGHTS AT LOW ALTITUDES.

  26. Tom Hauch, Charlotte, NC Says:

    Here’s where the legal system lets us down. There is a good chance that if a jury trial occurred he would not have been convicted by his God-fearing similarly resourceful freedom loving Midwestern peers.

    But that’s not the point. Anytime the law offers a stiff fine (death, lifetime incarceration) as a possibility the accused will choose the lesser sentence rather than face such an uncertainty. As the darkest Aftrican joke goes, “Do you want Mumba or Death by Mumba” ——-they’re the same or very close. Flash back to stretch torture in England: “Do you want to be stretched, or do you wish to lie to satisfy our needs” ….as did this pilot. Is this fair? Will not the innocent always confess to crimes in this circumstance? Is this what we mean by having “the English system of justice?”

    Would he have “confessed” if one choice was one month in prison and the other 3 months in prison?

    It is not fair because the gap between the two choices is too great. All an attorney has present the case so the worse choice is a possibility by our laws. We’d all pick a definite lesser sentence rather than risk the uncertain “death by Mumba”

    By the way, regardless of the right and wrong legal arguments, this pilot was ideal prey for our legal system. He’s resourceful and very practical, based upon what you’ve said about his craftsman work——-why would he want to spend thousands of dollars on a trial? Had he owned 2 lear jets and a helicopter, i.e. had the resources, he may have done so. Is this fair, or does our legal system depend more on our resources and disadvantage the resourceful…..

    Scary isn’t it. Many pilots fall into this categoy; will more fall prey to this system?

    Thanks for presenting this.

  27. Joe Dollens Says:

    It is troubling that so many of the above pilots, and the reporter of the article painted Straub as the victim here.

    When you take a non-flyer on a charity flight there is an assumption on their part that the pilot is essentially a professional — or at least is operating under professional safety standards. Straub was not. That he did not know where he was, was flying at 50 feet, and was not aware of the wires was an egregious violation of the trust the passenger put in him.

    He was also performing aerobatics throughout the flight and essentially during the fatal last few minutes when — I believe, it is expressly forbidden in charity flights for this very reason. Straub is not the victim here. He caused this death because of his disregard for the regulations and common sense. Straub is the reason GA is under attack, not a victim of an overzealous prosecutor.

    Justice was absolutely served by his jail time and loss of his license.

  28. Scott Clifton Says:

    I applaud AOPA and any others who report this story. Don’t kill the messenger!

    I don’t see the this report a glorification of anything. Being in the media business for nearly 30 years, I see bias all the time in stories, but I can’t say that for this one.

    Truthfully we should all be appreciative of knowint the details of this sad lesson. Remember, “a good pilot is always learning!” The poor choices Mr. Strub made may not have been what you think you would have chosen to do, but I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a pilot that hasn’t done something that could have led to something just as catastrophic. Whether it was landing high and fast on a grass strip, running out of gas, getting lost and being somewhere you shouldn’t , taking off without fully completing the planes checklist or, some other even simpler mistake. It drives home a point that has already been made here earlier on. …We pilots face critical moments every minute we’re in the cockpit. We are trained how to deal with failures of our airships and trained on what those commonly are. We are trained on how to avoid endangering lives on the ground, as well as our own in the air. But that doesn’t make us perfect or flawless. Even the best of the best can meet a challenge or make a decision that they can’t overcome. Scott Crossfield’s death comes to mind. Yet, knowing of many of his accomplishments and also that he made a mistake that also tragically ended his life and could have been endangering to others, I am glued to every show, writing or interview he did prior.

    I am sorry that Kimberly Reed was killed, her family suffers her loss and that Mr. Strub has to deal with her death for the rest of his life. Mr. Strub obviously was not purposely doing anything with the intent to harm anyone. While as tragic as this outcome is, we are all fortunate to learn of the details. I know I am not alone in saying I hope to never read another story of any kind that has a tragic outcome. But if it does, I won’t kill the messenger.

    I believe that for every bad that happens, we must make more good from from it. I am sure that in some manner, this story being told will save more lives than it took.

    Rest In Peace Kimberly Reed. God Speed Mr. Strub.

  29. CFII Says:

    Excellent — and provocative — case study in “Aeronautical Decision Making”. May the entire pilot population make better decisions on the ground and in the air, and turn perfect hindsight into 20/20 foresight.

  30. Jim Jenkins Says:

    Sir,

    I can remember descending down a “sucker hole” clear of the clouds. And then there were the clouds that appeared below us somehwere east of Petersburg, WV at night and unforecast. VFR on top at night and no IFR rating. Following the Wisconsin river below the clouds to get to Boscobel, WI, I suspect legal minimuns but I didn’t like it. All these things turned out okay but the legal vultures of today and the FCC excuse me FAA thugs they both are thugs, make it so like in the Bette Midler song, THE ROSE “…the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live…..”. and John Prine from his CD “John Prine Fair & Square” song “Safety Joe”, teaches us that there isn’t a flight that is prudent and we shouldn’t leave the rubber room. Life is more that that. Things happen if you do anything. It’s not like in Juni Fisher’s song “Can’t Complain” where in the 1880′s the americans had some gumption. Now it’s long live the Nanny State. Oh “What A Ways We’ve Come” – Gibson Brothers but it’s not a good way.

    Sincerely,

    Jim Jenkins
    WAGS Radio
    Bishopville, SC

  31. William Says:

    I am by profession a litigation attorney, and by passion a GA commercial pilot and CFI. I belatedly read this story with genuine horror and could not agree with AOPA more that publishing it was both appropriate and wise.

    First, from the content of the article, Mr. Strub is plainly representative of virtually all of us. He is in GA for the love of it and passionate about sharing that love with any who will listen. I cannot imagine any of us not relating to the circumstances which gave rise to the flight.

  32. Amy Meadows Gwidt Says:

    My heart goes out to Kimberly Reed’s family for their loss. In a tragic accident like this one, mourning the death of a loved one is painful enough without having to deal with any un-forgiveness.

    The truth is, had Kimberly’s family known Mark Strub prior to the accident they would have painfully mourned for Kimberly and grieved for Mark Strub. The mere possibility of Mark Strub’s incarceration would have sickened them. But without knowing who Mark Strub is, he becomes the easiest target for blame. So blame him for his “negligence”, and hate him for being at the wrong place at the wrong time as some do. Unfortunately, that tainted perspective does nothing but add tragedy to tragedy!

    If only it were possible to introduce Kimberly’s family to Mark Strub objectively. Then they would be comforted to know that Kimberly was in the company of a well meaning, tender hearted, generous man of integrity who; would never in a million years have intentionally done anything to harm Kimberly in any way. Then at least they would know that Mark Strub didn’t cause Kimberly’s death due to some haphazard mentality or disrespect for human life.

    I believe that we should strive to do our best and trust God to do the rest. And when we fall short despite our best efforts because we’re imperfect human beings…shouldn’t there be grace? Who is perfect? Mark Strub fell short the day of the accident, but he didn’t do it on purpose!

    For those of you who are curious about what type of guy Mark Strub is, here’s what I know. In the past decade and a half I’ve had the opportunity to professionally work with him on many remodeling projects. Despite the fact that I’m a designer who could drive just about anyone crazy because I’m such a perfectionist, Mark Strub managed early on to earn my trust. If not for his consistent diligence to a high standard of excellence, and the fact that I always knew he respected where I was coming from… he would never have made the cut. The high standard of excellence I’m talking about not only speaks of his meticulous skill level as a carpenter, but it speaks to the fact that he’s forever demonstrating the utmost respect to the people around him. In an industry full of contractors with a slap it together – get her done attitude, Mark’s desire to offer his best ALL the time to EVERYONE has exemplified his strong character and been refreshing! It would have been completely out of character for Mark to take anyone’s life lightly. He is a respecter of persons, a guy who always puts everyone else first!

    I suspect that in Kimberly’s last moments she would have sensed that she was in the company of a decent, humble, caring person who shared her love for life and the celebration that goes along with it. Please don’t mistake this as my being flippant, but I can’t help but reflect on the scripture that says: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest.” Luke 12:25-26 Is it possible that from God’s perspective Kimberly may have been blessed to experience that last flight before entering Eternity on her appointed day? Only God knows, but I do believe ultimately that God is sovereign. That in itself is a powerful truth that I sincerely hope will bring healing and resolve to everyone involved!

    Thank you AOPA for covering this story. If nothing else it will serve as a wakeup call to all pilots. You can never be too careful!

    Sincerely,

    Amy Meadows Gwidt
    2321 Jelinski Circle
    Plover, WI 54467

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