This appears to be one of those exceedingly rare, one-in-a-million, wrong place, wrong time mishaps. A Cessna 206 flying a cancer patient from Michigan to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota went down in Lake Michigan. The volunteer pilot who had flown numerous medical assistance flights did not appear to be affiliated with any of the organized volunteer medical flight groups such as Angel Flight Central or Wings of Mercy that carry patients in the upper Midwest.
As usual, it is very early in the investigation process so these comments are subject to change. There were 5 people on board and the flight was westbound over the lake at 10,000 feet, nearly to the midpoint, when the pilot reported engine trouble. He turned back east to take advantage of the tailwind and glided to within several miles of shore where they went into the water. The waves at the time were reportedly 4 – 8 feet which makes ditching difficult. The pilot was the only survivor and was picked up within an hour of the crash.
Why pick the direct route over the lake? It’s shorter by about 100 miles and avoids all the Chicago area air traffic which might extend the meandering. There was a large cluster of thunderstorms on the southwestern side of the lake that could be completely avoided by the direct route and at 10,000 feet, the the aircraft would have been out of gliding distance of land for only a short period of time. What were the odds that there would be an engine problem right there?
This week, hundreds of aircraft will make the lake crossing uneventfully enroute to Oshkosh. I’ve done it myself reasoning that a well maintained engine would carry the day and it always has. At this point we don’t know the maintenance history of the aircraft or engine. Fuel load should be easy to determine and the pilot is available to provide his insights. It reinforces the multi-engine mentality but we have many accidents, as the old saying goes, where the second engine takes the aircraft right to the scene of the accident. The second engine on a piston twin will not always be sufficient to prevent a crash and must be managed properly by the pilot, which it frequently isn’t. There is also double the odds of an engine failure.
This mishap perfectly illustrates the heartbreak of very low probability, high consequence events that are the bane of aviation. Perhaps the investigation will uncover something that might have been done differently or perhaps this one of those random events that plague human existence – the trash truck that crosses the center line of a two lane highway into your lane, the tree that falls in the woods when someone was out walking, why some people get cancer and others don’t, the bullet in a war zone or during a robbery that has your name on it. Our condolences go out to the families and friends but especially to the pilot.
Life is precious and uncertain – live it well and work hard at managing risk when flying. You can’t eliminate it.