Earlier this week, news broke of a pilot who had fallen out of his airplane last Friday in Tennessee while on a training flight. Unfortunately, the pilot was a few thousand feet in the air at the time, and the fall resulted in his death.
The facts go like this. The pilot was being checked out in his Zenith Zodiac 601, when the instructor on board said the student had trouble controlling the airplane, the canopy opened, and out he went. They found his body the next day. Critically, it appears he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.
The idea of falling from such a great height is downright scary. There’s a reason our stomachs sink when we peer over a tall bridge or stand on the edge of a big drop. Falling happens in nightmares, and it’s not something that we signed up for when we began learning to fly.
I remember vividly the uneasiness I felt when I was learning to fly in a Cessna 152, my thigh pressed against the door. I was sure that if the door opened, there would be nothing holding me back from certain death other than a thin strip of nylon. Over time that feeling has faded—thankfully. I’ve since flown open-cockpit biplanes, Trikes, and even an AirCam, all without feeling like I was about to make international headlines.
Actually, the fact this particular story made international headlines is significant. It speaks to the rarity of it. That’s not to say it never happens. On a surprisingly regular basis, someone will willfully throw themselves out of an airplane to commit suicide. And no, I’m not talking about skydiving. But the accident variety, which this seems to have been, is so rare it could be probably be considered an anomaly. It happens, at most, once every few years.
The lesson to take away from this tragic accident is that seatbelts should be worn at all times. I’ve never flown with someone who didn’t wear a seatbelt, nor have I had to remind a student to do so, as this instructor should have done. Knowing that a seatbelt would have likely produced a different outcome in this flight–and the fact that this is rare to begin with–should help quiet any nightmares of the same randomly happening to you.—Ian J. Twombly