It’s not something that happens often in General Aviation. On average, we ‘ll have about half a dozen pilot incapacitation accidents every year. The following comes from the soon-to-be-released 2008 Joseph T. Nall Report that will examine GA’s 2007 accident picture:
“Of the six incapacitation accidents that occurred in 2007, one was the result of a heart attack, and one a probable stroke. Both were fatal. Two, one fatal, were attributed to spatial disorientation. The remaining two were an apparent murder-suicide that killed two, and a loss of consciousness on short final that the pilot speculated might have been caused by dehydration. He suffered only minor injuries after a hard landing.”
Interesting categorizations! The stroke/heart attack/loss of consciousness – no problem. On spatial disorientation, it might well have been a medical problem, or not, and without getting too graphic, NTSB says that sometimes there’s not enough left to determine exactly what happened. The murder-suicide could be described as a mental incapacitation but it somehow seems different. There are about two dozen other accidents where the aircraft appears perfectly normal but fell out of the sky. There were no physiological markers so they might be incapacitation. Numerically this isn’t a huge deal but on a percentage basis, because we’re dealing with small numbers, it’s worth trying to be as accurate as we can, especially with a hyper- sensitive media and public watching.
FAA and NTSB are watching the Sport Pilot medical experiment carefully – no FAA medical required – to see if the rule is about right or if it might be loosened. AOPA has requested that recreational pilot certificate fall under the same procedure but that is on hold while the agency evaluates the experience with Sport Pilot. An informal review of Sport Pilot accidents shows nothing that would indicate that pilots are abusing the privilege.
If your flying companion is uneasy about you becoming incapacitated, they might wish to review ASF’s free online Pinch Hitter program.