It was a tough weekend!

September 7, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

Holiday weekends are something to look forward to—usually. Safety professionals cross their fingers and hope for the best. This Labor Day weekend did not help the 2011 GA’s safety statistics.

  • There was a midair collision from what appears to have been a formation flight in Alaska. A Cessna 207 and a Cessna 208 Caravan came together—the ‘van’ crashed and the pilot was lost—the other aircraft made a forced landing in a nearby field with no injuries.
  • Seward, Nebraska, single engine experimental aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff—no details yet—two fatalities.
  • Near Kanab, Utah, an amateur built Long-Ez went down fatally injuring the pilot, apparently on his way to a fly-in.
  • In Caldwell, Idaho an amateur built Kitfox crashed on takeoff with two fatalities.
  • A Cessna 210 went down Sunday afternoon near Tehachapi south of Bakersfield, with two fatalities—it sparked a large brushfire. One hundred-seventy homes were evacuated as the fire spread to more that 8,600 acres and more than 1,200 firefighters were fighting the blaze.

While the details won’t be known for months or longer, it’s a good time to reflect on our activity. There are some inherent risks but many more are deliberate or inadvertently taken by the pilot to varying degrees. The NTSB is already researching, along with EAA, amateur built aircraft accidents to gain a better understanding of the problems there. This weekend, unfortunately, gives them more raw material. Formation flying is definitely a higher risk activity requiring considerable practice and training to do it safely. Even then the pros occasionally have trouble. It is not something to be undertaken casually (That is not intended as commentary on the AK mishap.)

The hindsight view on all these accidents will likely show the four human failings of arrogance, distraction, complacency or ignorance—present in at least some degree. Could something have been done differently? Probably. Mechanical failure is also a possibility but most of us will never experience a sudden engine failure in our flying careers. That said, it’s good to be prepared. Mechanical failures also often have roots in the above human shortcomings.

Will we learn from these tragedies? Some pilots will take it to heart to modify or reinforce their safety procedures.  Learning from the past—what a concept! Others will indulge in the natural self-protectiveness that it won’t happen to them.   It’s way too easy to think that none of us would ever be so _______ (fill in the blank.)

If you’re reading this, you’re likely the former personality type. Share this with those who are not so likely to be self-reflective. It can’t hurt and coming from a peer, it makes a much bigger impression than all the rule-making, procedure-complicating, or attempted enforcement efforts that the official and unofficial authority figures can dream up. Don’t believe it? Just ask any teenager!

Bruce Landsberg
President, AOPA Foundation

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