A recurring accident theme is the use of GA aircraft to get to sporting events. It can be a great way to travel, but sometimes it can’t. Pilots are often traveling with friends or family so there is a social commitment of delivering passengers to a special, possibly prestigious, event. Tickets are pricey and often hard to get, adding to the pressure of an irreplaceable loss if the trip is canceled or delayed. Off the top of my head I can think of three “sports-induced” mishaps involving GA, and there are sure to be many more in the files.
Two involved VFR pilots who just had to get to a game when the weather was clearly IMC. The third one occurred this past weekend when a Cirrus SR22 with two adults, a child, and two teens wound up about five miles short of the airport on the trip home from a baseball game. We know very little at this point other than the pilot was instrument-rated, and the weather appeared to be IMC,, just after midnight with a close temperature/dew point spread.
Five people in a four place aircraft is considered bad form in any case, but they flew to the game that way so, presumably, flight was possible—if not legal or smart.
Arriving back after the midnight hour means fatigue may have been a factor. The airplane handling may have been squirrelly due to weight/balance problems. Five fatalities, however, (especially for the young people) seems like a very poor tradeoff to sleep in one’s own bed. So, as usual, we’re back to the judgment, decision-making aspect.
This just in from NTSB: “The pilot contacted Springfield Approach about 0002 as the flight entered their airspace. About 0017, the pilot was cleared for an Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach to runway 14 at SGF. The pilot was instructed to contact the control tower at that time. At 0020, about 3 minutes after establishing contact with the control tower, the pilot requested radar vectors in order to execute a second ILS approach. About 30 seconds later, radar contact was lost.”
So, a few questions/observations:
- What potential aerodynamic degradations might have occurred and would the pilot notice?
- Night IMC and a missed approach can be stressful but when we choose to play in that environment on must be prepared.
- The pilot, in his mid-40s, was a successful businessman. How might fatigue have played into this mishap?
- Perhaps there was a mechanical malfunction and the pilot was not directly to blame, although the 5/4 seating arrangement still bothers me.
The aftermath, as you might suspect, was devastating to the community, and it’s going to take a long time to recover. The reporter I spoke to for an interview was sympathetic to GA and said she really liked flying in small planes. That’s an unusual twist, but too many of her viewers won’t understand that it’s not the activity that caused the problem—any more than they’d understand that automobile or motorcycle accidents are usually the result of some human failure that could have easily been prevented.
From a systems analysis perspective, I’m hard-pressed to see how these situations are to be prevented without drastically reducing the freedom of those who use aircraft responsibly.