This accident attracted national attention in mid-November. It involved an 82 year old pilot who was flying the Oklahoma State Girls basketball coach and assistant coach on a recruiting mission. The 1964 Cherokee went down in Arkansas with four fatalities. Good VFR weather prevailed and was not a factor but witnesses said the “engine was spluttering” and the aircraft ” nosedived into the ground.” The professional media was a bit more restrained on their speculation than GA pilots, at least in the reports I read.
The pilots’ discourse was spirited, ranging from old aircraft, old engines that must be overhauled (not correct), old pilots, possible fuel “starvation” and so on. A few vented their frustrations about the cost of flying and avgas – not sure what that had to do with this accident but hey, it’s the Internet where any inanity is allowed and in some quarters, welcomed. In the immortal words of writer John Lawton, “The irony of the Information Age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion.”
The Air Safety Institute and AOPA fielded a question from a reporter musing about aging pilots, their safety record and whether there ought to be a mandatory age limit for GA pilots. The reporter mentioned the age 65 retirement requirement for airline pilots. Our response was that aging is a highly personal variable and as recently shown by the Part 121 rule change in the U.S. from age 60 to 65, it also tends to be arbitrary. The airline-flying public can and should have quite a different expectation regarding safety than those of us who fly Part 91 GA. In commercial operations there is some rationale to limiting pilot ages although with two crew members it becomes a little less imperative.
The reality with aging pilots is that we have no denominator by which to judge exposure. Older pilots often have more time and are perhaps wealthier than their younger counterparts and thus may fly more hours. Obvious incidents of incapacitation remain rare but subtle deterioration and subsequent accidents involvement is not easily ferreted out. The Air Safety Institute has a course for aging pilots that will debut in the next few weeks so, if you have “a friend” who fits the category be sure and tell them about it. We’ll provide appropriate links here.
This accident was a hard reminder for OSU which lost members of its men’s basketball team in January 2001 during a charter flight in a King Air 200. The school changed it’s travel policy for team members but not for coaches. A reevaluation is now likely.
Perhaps it’s human nature to guess about accident causes before there is evidence and for what purpose? To show off our expertise, get a job, keep a job, help the media, create conversation—the list is endless. Having been wrong too many times myself, I now mostly follow Abraham Lincoln’s advice, ” It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”