Not So Gentle Reminder

September 1, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

propellerIt was a really bad day in Beverly Massachusetts on Saturday when the Chief Flight Instructor of Beverly Flight Center was fatally injured by a propeller. Early reports noted that Michael Costales – age 30,  taxied into the run up area for runway 34 in a Piper Warrior with a student on board. He noticed that one of the Flight Center’s LSAs, also in the run up area with a CFI and student aboard,  had an improperly secured canopy and went to assist. Tragically, he tangled with a prop.

Nall09Costales reportedly had been flying for 10 years and had about 2,700 hours. As noted in the 2009 Nall Report, there were 4 total prop/rotor strike accidents in 2008. Usually these accidents involve passengers who are not prop savvy either exiting or boarding aircraft with the engine running. Hand propping to start the engine also often leads to mishap especially on aircraft that weren’t designed for it.

Full disclosure:  I’ve have boarded and exited aircraft with the engine running and it’s not good procedure – however expedient it may have seemed at the time. My speculation is that Mr. Costales was so concerned for the safety of the other aircraft and so focused on that,  he forgot that engines were running

Ramp-SafetyThere were almost two certainly two common denominators in this accident – complacency and distraction. They are present in almost any kind of human mishap. When we spend a lot of time around aircraft we tend to get comfortable.  Don’t!  When we’re distracted  it may be the nearest little alligator that has us for dinner not the big guy on the far side of the pond.

We need to look out for each other and that includes polite and respectful safety reminders when a potentially hazardous situation develops. Would a radio call have sufficed to alert the other pilot? Perhaps they had done that already. More details will be forthcoming but this young life was lost due a moment’s inattention

Sincere condolences to Mr. Costales’ family and friends, his students and to the Beverly flying community.  Please beware Propellers – tell your friends !

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Susan M. Simmons

    This brings to mind the ridiculous directive, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m assuming that Mr. Costales was a good instructor who would have told his students to NEVER enter/exit an airplane with the engine running. However, he failed to set a good example by doing the very thing he should have been teaching his students not to do. Instructors must ALWAYS perform to a standard in which they can say to their students, “DO AS I DO.” I’ll wager this easily avoidable tragedy resulted in 2 students that day learning a lesson they will remember for the rest of their lives. It is truly heartbreaking that they learned it in such a shocking way. They should have been learning that lesson BY EXAMPLE.
    This also makes me wonder if there’s an instructor out there who’s now suffering a guilty conscience. Did Costales years ago ever see his own instructor do this very thing? If so, did that send a subliminal message that’s it’s OK to do it – since they ‘know’ to stay clear of turning props? Except on this day, what Costales supposedly knew didn’t keep him safe. It cost him his life.
    Bruce, I hope you will use this tragedy to demand that instructors PRACTICE WHAT THEY PREACH. Tell them that if a student SEES them do something that these same instructors TELL them not to do, the student will more likely LEARN WHAT HE SEES being done!. When Costales got out of his airplane, he certainly wasn’t going to walk into a turning prop. He had no intention of doing that. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Ask instructors if they’ve ever done the same thing. Then request a promise that they NEVER do it again. After all, people are watching & they have a tremendous responsibility. If the life they save is not their own, it may very well be the life of someone else.

  • Brian Turrisi

    Bruce: You raise a very good point about our “desire to help” as pilots but the sinister problem of distraction looms in the process. With this example I cannot help but think of the Senator Heinz incident years ago when the landing gear would not come down on his plane approaching Philadelphia Intl. to land.
    We all know how gear problems are usually handled. But an over zealous helicopter pilot want to help too by taking a “close look” at the gear.The result was a mid air collision that killed them all.
    Some times our enthusiasm over takes good judgment. I doubt there was anything that helicopter pilot would have seen that would have changed what they did anyway. So he should have just kept his distance. But we all want to help.
    We just need to think through when we want to help

  • Bruce La Fountain

    I recently accepted a ride to my home field from a well qualified and very safe pilot who is the owner of the maintenance facility where I have my airplane serviced.

    I am a 15 year relatively low time VFR only pilot and until that day I had never broken my own safety rule that I had set for myself years ago when I first got my ticket; to never get in or out of an airplane with an engine running.

    When my ride pulled up in front of my hangar and did a quick U-turn with out shutting down I was surprised as he said goodbye while waiting for me to exit with the engine still running.

    I asked if he thought it was safe as I personally never allow entry or exit from my airplane with the prop spinning. He said it was fine so I got out and waived goodbye no problem.

    When he returned to pick me up a week later same procedure on entry with the engine running so I got in and we took off with no problem.

    I never said anymore to him about it but in my head I know it is a very dangerous practice for a variety of reasons the least of which is that ALL AIRPLANES are a TRIP HAZARD.

    I am certain that more than a few unsuspecting experienced pilots or maintenance people have tripped and fell into a propeller running or not.

    In my past I have seen many people enter and exit an aircraft with the engine running but never determined it to be unreasonably unsafe for pilots or people very familiar with airplanes but I just did not like the practice.

    After reading about this terrible incident I am once again reminded of why I made up my own rule to begin with and I will never again enter or exit an airplane with an engine running or request a passenger of mine to do so.

    While shutting down for a moment while passengers enter and exit an airplane may be a nuisance…it is a SAFE nuisance!

  • http://AOPA Lynn OJala

    This reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a magazine photographer. I was a pilot at our local airshow at our field and he was taking photos of all pilots with their planes. He wanted me to stand with my arm over my prop for the photo. I told him I did not think it was a good practice since there were kids everywhere that day and we were always telling them not to touch the propellers of the aircraft. He said he never thought about it and we took the photo near the wing. I mentioned that especially publishing a photo in a flying publication with the pilot touching the prop sends the wrong message, especially to kids.

  • Jonus Johnson

    This is really an heart breaking story but it also remind us of the danger to keep in mind within the hole scope of aviation often time we break our own safety rules to be helpful PLEASE PLEASE be safe we are in an elite clube that many would like to join so let’s take care of each other by being safe.FLY HIGH AMOUNG THE CLOUDS WATCH OUT BE LOW! THERE GOES THE FLOOR

  • J Ritchie

    A few decades ago when Cubs and Aeroncas ruled the flight line, I think pilots had a very healthy respect for the prop; mainly because hand-propping was required for every flight. The “brakes-throttle cracked-it’s hot” routine was carried out every time, and nearly every pilot knew what it felt like to be inches from a swinging prop. It is very sobering. Believe it or not, until this article I never heard anyone say you should NEVER exit a running airplane (but I agree it’s not a really good idea either). It’s just that it paled in comparison to hand-propping which we did everyday. Passengers were most at risk as they never went through the start-up process. We may have lost some of this respect of the propeller with the push-button simplicity of today’s operations.

    I didn’t know Mr Costales, but even the best of us are human and can make mistakes. May God bless his family.

  • Don Arnold

    I have been hand propping Cubs and Champs for 30 years. If on a cross country with these machines, you will wind up violating the rule. One has to remain very present when in these situations. I agree with checklists, but platitudes often have the effect of allowing us to turn off part of our brains. I just drove thru a construction area where, in addition to all the traffic signage, there were dozens of signs every 50 feet or so telling excavator operators where the overhead lines are. The excavators have glass roofs, but a part of their brains are now turned off.

  • Kevin R.C. O’Brien

    Bruce and gang:

    I knew Mike Costales well and had flown with him many times, and quite recently. He was knocking my rust off and preparing me for my instrument checkride. When sent me off to a PPL checkride years ago, the examiner commented at the end that Mike’s students were always well prepared.

    Mike was always very safety conscious and a stickler for regulation adherence and for going beyond the regulations when they didn’t provide a sufficiently safety-oriented approach. This makes his death cruelly ironic.

    I’ve been around aviation all my life, and was always tickled on the rare occasion where I’d know a fact he didn’t, or I had had an experience he’d envy. He always debriefed me thoroughly on Oshkosh and AOPA Expo, and they were certainly on his “someday” list.

    I am not going to comment on the specifics of his accident, as I was not there, and as usual the local press has had inconsistent stories (at least three different ones). This may be because the press interviewed people who are in no position to know anything about the mishap, and did not speak to eyewitnesses (who have enough to deal with without being harried by reporters). Mike was the go-to guy on the new Piper Sport at the school, but then, he was the go-to guy on everything.

    I was travelling on business, and still haven’t had a chance to go by Flight Center and express my condolences to the owner Arne Nordeide and the other instructors. Many of the instructors earned their CFI or II ratings with Mike, and he himself went all the way from first flight to chief pilot at the school in ten years, most of which he spent as a very inspiring instructor. I will rededicate myself to the joy of flying in his memory.

    I’m sure the people in the other aspects of his life (he was also a teacher of scuba diving and an enthusiast of snow skiing and dance) are equally devastated by his loss. But at least Mike leaves behind a cohort of instructors who were trained to his high standard. His accident is an important reminder that, in our world, any small error or deviation from procedure can be terribly consequential.

    RIP Mike. And all of you — fly safe, and keep flying.

  • Jon Stark

    I too knew Mike and had flown with him countless times in the past 6 years. He was always a consummate professional and a great, thorough teacher.

    Hindsight being 20/20, I’m sure we all can think of a number of ways the chain could have been broken … that even one thing done differently would have avoided this tragic accident. But we often only see them in hindsight.

    This accident is a painful reminder that even the best of us (and Mike was definitely among the best I’ve known) can become complacent and make a costly mistake.

    Anyone who knew Mike will undoubtedly agree with me that Mike was just an amazingly nice guy. It comes as no surprise that when he met his end, it was while helping someone else.

  • Richard Vale

    Bruce: I hope our publications will censor photos of folks in the prop arc; the casual view of someone holding the prop while their picture is taken gives me the “willies”.
    Checking the ‘P’ lead for the mags at engine shut-down needs to be in the checklist before ground folks are attaching a tow bar or installing nose wheel chocks.

  • Bro. Tim Paul

    Two days ago we had a memorial service for Mike Costales at KBVY at the run-up area where this tragic incident occurred. I’ve known Mike for over three years and I flew with him for several of my stage checks as I worked toward my private pilot certificate. He was a good friend, an accomplished pilot and an excellent teacher. He was a master at “thinking ahead” and he could move an order of magnitude faster than most of us! Bruce and Brian T. refer to the “desire to help”. A desire to help was part of Mike’s nature. But I don’t think that distraction played a part in this incident. Susan S. makes a good point about “do as I do.” All of us at KBVY who knew Mike still can’t understand why he would exit the plane with the engine running. But then, I wish it were that simple – you had to know Mike. His sole concern in life was helping others. I don’t say this as an excuse for Mike, but I agree with Bruce that it’s not good procedure to exit a running airplane. And you are correct Bruce LaF. Shutting down is a SAFE nuisance. I was at KBVY ready to taxi to that run-up area when this accident happened and the airport was shut down. Knowing Mike, the only conclusion that I can come to is that Mike slipped and fell into the prop. A true accident. We celebrated Mike’s life last Wednesday and several people including myself echoed the descriptions of Mike given by Mike O’Brien and Jon Stark in this blog. In his last effort to help his fellow pilot he taught us all a most powerful lesson. A lesson that I as a new pilot will never forget. Clear skies and tailwinds Mike!