Precautionary Landing or Really Good Luck?

January 19, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

There are days and nights when we just shouldn’t be flying and some of us try it anyway. VFR into IMC still claims too many lives. In the 2009 Nall Report there were 21  such accidents and 18 were fatal.  At 86%,  not many VFR types who fly into the gossamer web of clouds get to fly or do anything again. Compared to the overall GA fatality rate, VFR into IMC is one of the most deadly.

A recent accident involved a C-172 that crash landed in a pasture very near an airport around 10:45 in the evening.  The aircraft flipped over with the pilot apparently trapped inside. It was discovered the next morning around 0800.

The pilot was seriously injured but his dog was running around outside the aircraft, so the touchdown was relatively soft and in a normal attitude.  The area was said to be covered in dense fog.

As usual, we’re in speculation mode. There could be a mechanical problem, fuel mismanagement, or something else but two thoughts for your consideration:

1. If this was an inadvertent touchdown –  just flying along trying to stay visual under the clouds at night and BUMP – the aircraft is on the ground upside down – that is phenomenal good luck !

2. If this was a precautionary landing where the pilot recognized that he’d badly overplayed his hand and needed to make the best out of a mess, then it was a belatedly good and live-saving decision.

Few pilots consider deliberate off-airport landings. In case after case, and unfortunately there aren’t that many, when a pilot admits he or she is in way too deep and chooses to crash, there is usually little injury except to the ego.

The aircraft gets somewhat damaged but the occupants invariably get to fly again. The Air Safety Institute has a real pilot story, VFR in a Snowstorm, that shows this saves lives.

Much better not to have to make the choice, but if other options are going down the tubes, what’s in your emergency toolkit?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • stuart

    I am a former ag pilot and current CFI still teaching after 50+ears of flying. I used to teach off-airport landings and didn’t send a student for a checkride until they actually performed one. I used known ag strips and good dirt roads that coiuld be landed on safely (with the proper technique). The student was not forewarned and his/her response was invaluable for determining whether or not the training had “sunk in”. The real value of such training was the confidence gained by the student. I hammered the idea that it was better to walk away from a partially damaged airplane than to continue into IMC and end up a statistic.
    Today, most insurance policies would prevent such instruction. Too bad. There is huge difference between a low approach and actually landing the aircraft. Sure, you can (and should) practice this at an airport but the conditions and “surprise factor are just not the same.

  • Bruce Landsberg


    My CFI instructor did just such an exercise with me as I was becoming an instructor. It could be done in safety using a grass strip airport that you knew was in good shape and had not told the student about.

    How about it CFIs?