Towers in flat Terrain – They’re out there!

September 10, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

Comm-TowerIt was with great discouragement that I read of what appears to be another VFR into IMC accident this past weekend. A doctor flying with his wife, two of their children and a physician friend were on their way to Dallas. They made it all of eight miles after departing Jones Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, apparently betting on the flat terrain of the Sooner state to allow a quick trip to an Oklahoma University football game. Unfortunately, a tower guy wire only 150 feet AGL ended the flight. Witnesses noted very low clouds and fog in the area. Weather at Jones airport was reported at 600 OVC and 4 miles.

Football is a religion for some but it’s not a good reason to lose your life in an aircraft and take 4 other trusting souls with you. Pilot-in-command is an awesome responsibility that a few of us may take a bit casually. It’s not intentional but the results are the same.

It is premature to be too outspoken but I’ll make a strong bet on what the probable cause will be. We don’t yet know the pilot’s experience or ratings but this type of weather is exactly why there are instrument ratings and IFR flight plans.

Within our flying community, we have to start being a little more outspoken, in a respectful way, when we learn of someone pushing the limits. In most cases, the accident doesn’t occur the first time they try an end run. Success breeds contempt and the pattern of flirting with disaster may go for years before the last link in the accident chain is complete.

Fly VFR when it’s prudent to do so and IFR when you must! An  IFR flight plan was on file butclearance apparently was never received.

FlyBlindI can’t say it more eloquently that this ASF Pilot Safety Announcement – Please forward to anyone you think might benefit. These accidents are tremendously expensive, monetarily, emotionally, and politically.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Bob Yarmey

    Please get your facts straight (from readily avilable official sources).

    The accident plane which departed the KRVS airport impacted the antenna 8 miles away within 7 (NOT 30 minutes) minutes of its departure.

  • Bob Yarmey

    The pilot was instrument rated AND an IFR flight plan had been filed. For some unexplained reason the pilot was in a cruise mode with the last in flight data posting indicating 168 kts at 1200′ occurring at 10:39 (a few minutes following take-off. (Source: FBO web). It would seem that for whatever reasons, the flight had leveled off prematurely (awaiting an airborne pick-up of clearance???)

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Thank you for noting – I believe we have it correct in the blog. The summary in ePilot was incorrect. Regarding your second comment – it’s hard to understand what appears ( and we’re in the very early stages of the investigation so I’m being cautious) to be some very bad decision-making.

    The airport, RVS, has a control tower and clearance delivery, so it’s extremely perplexing why the flight would depart below a 600 foot overcast with IFR safety so readily available unless he was advised by ATC of a delay but elected to depart under a special VFR to make the opening kickoff.

    It’s a really bad risk vs. reward tradeoff.

    Thank you for the comments.



    It always annoys me when there is an airplane accident that if a doctor is involved it becomes a prominent part of the headline and story. Never would there be mention that a ditch digger, social worker, or construction worker was involved. This probably goes back to the era when doctors were able to buy more plane than they could fly (i.e. the “forked tail doctor killer). As a physician I have a commercial license with an instrument rating, CFI, CFI multiengine, CFII single and multiengine with over 6000 hours of flight time in 35 types of airplanes. I know many physicians in the Flying Physicians Association who have equal or greater. Safety is always paramount to us. Give the doctor a break and let the facts be told before all of us are trashed by such stories with few details except for the fact he was a doctor flying with another doctor.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    As a member of the Flying Physicians Association ( honorary) and a regular presenter as at their annuals meetings, I understand the sensitivity. We try to be as egalitarian as possible in presenting information.

    ASF has asked in the past for FAA/NTSB to provide occupational information on accident pilots. They have not responded. Whether it yields useful information into the thought process of pilots is open for discussion.

    The psychology of various professions that have many pilots would be a good discussion over an adult beverage.


  • GJackson

    For the past 10 years or so, ATC has de facto had a priority system: Airlines, jets of any kind, then if they are in a good mood and not needing a coffee break, they might give a clearance to a single engine prop plane. This policy induces people to takeoff and hope to pick up a clearance airborne. Yes, it’s a bad decision ….. a decision that should not have to be made.

  • R Anderson

    GJackson, as a former ATC with 38 years of experience, and as a GA pilot (Comm, CFI/I/ME) for 51 years, your bold statement is “full of it”. Yes, you might find an unsatisfactory employee in any occupation on occasion, but that one person or experience does not define the entire profession. There’s a whole lot (huge, huge majority) of ATC types in every ATC facility right this minute busting their butts to give their very best service to all of their customers. Your bold statement is only you very uninformed opinion.

  • http://none Paul Naz

    As a pilot for 51 years, it tears at my heart eveytime I read about a fatal GA plane accident. A long time ago, an instrutor once told me ” you are an average pilot but with excellent judgement.” That was a compliment.

    Flying is all abut judgement. In order to be a safe pilot you have to harbor some cowardly feelings. None of this” I’ll give it try.”

    One theory I have regaarding this flight , may be that passengers in GA planes become scared when they look out the window and see only clag. I’ve had passengers tell me they are very nervous when they either can’t see the ground or clear blue skies. It would be interesting to research the past experience, if any, of the passengers previous GA flights. The good doctor may have been accomodating the passengers comfort by not flying in the clag. It is a tradegy to lose five people, especially medical professionals, which society badly needs.

  • Jim Seaman

    From an RVS ATP. There is a lot of confusion about this accident. According to the FAA website the pilot was NOT “Instrument Airplane” rated. The NTSB initial report is out and indicates an IFR Flight Plan WAS filed. None of the other “passengers’ on board had a pilot license. Draw your own conclusions. The information on Flightaware,com indicates RVS to DAL via a waypoint (LOSZY) with 6,500′ cruise altitude. How does one file an IFR flight plan at 6,500’? The report also confirms local weather as 600′ overcast. Probably was a VFR pilot into IMC. Normal Tower initial clearance from RVS to the South is RR heading until 1,500′ then turn left to 300 degrees. Track seems to show this turn but he never got above 1,500′ which was about the ceiling. His bouncing around between 1,200′ and 1,500′ would seems to indicate he was trying to stay VMC and was looking for a hole. Sad

  • Steve Ingraham

    Jim Seaman’s postulation is the first time I have read anything about this accident that made any sense. Of course most of my information has come from the local TV reporters and the local newspaper story. I always read those journalistic reports concerning aircraft issues with a huge grain of salt. Very rarely, if ever, have I read a non-aviation reporter who accurately reports about an airplane incident correctly.

    It has really puzzled me how a pilot can take off in fog and remain close enough to the ground to run into a guy wire for a tower 7 minutes later. That airplane should be at 6500′, or close to it, in 7 minutes. It has been really puzzling to me until reading Jim’s post. His speculation makes perfect sense to me now as to how a pilot could do this.

    Having said this though, I fail to understand why this pilot did not make the decision to climb out of the fog. I live in Oklahoma. On that day the trip from Tulsa to Dallas would have been severe clear once he climbed out of the low lying fog around Tulsa. It was a very fine day for any kind of flying when this accident occurred (with the exception of the morning fog in that part of the state). If this pilot decided to attempt to fly under the potential low lying fog/clouds until he could find a hole in the clouds, this was a very serious error in judgment. If he was indeed IFR certified he should have never attempted to scud run while looking for a hole. He filed his clearance according to reports, so why not fly IFR until he made it out of the clag? I cannot imagine he would have had to endure IFR conditions very long at all before he would have popped out on top and had an uneventful flight to Dallas at altitude.

  • William Campbell

    I concur with Jim Seaman. I have flown in and out of Riverside on numerous occasions. My guess is also he was attempting to maintain VMC. I flew approachs the prior Thursday for an hour and a half and was only out of the clouds briefly in the OKC area. Saturday was not any better and perhaps somewhat worse in the OKC area. There was a published AIRMET Sierra for western and southern Oklahoma on Saturday. While there were some spaces the visible towering cu’s in this area were easily 12-15000 with very low bases.
    I like Jim had questions regarding the inconsistencies. IFR filed but not flown. I checked the databases and could not find any Instrument rating for the pilot.
    Finally, I agree this was very, very sad, a family dead, another partially orphaned and more people convinced of those dangerous “little planes”. My Archer handled similar conditions 10 times longer than the ill-fated Saratoga, it wasn’t the plane or GA that caused the crash.

  • g cenac

    The tulsa world stated that the pilot had filed ifr. The faa has the pilot having a private ticket only; not instrument rated.

  • William Campbell

    It further occurs to me that, as I sit here looking at my ASF mailer, “What Went Wrong”, might be interest to at least superficially address in OKC this coming Tuesday evening.

    How many IFR pilots file VFR altitudes?

  • R Anderson

    The tulsa world stated that the pilot had filed ifr. The faa has the pilot having a private ticket only; not instrument rated.

    Not as uncommon as you might think. A BE55 departed my last assigned airport, IFR. He unfortunately took off without ever calling tower. No big deal. However, in doing a records check, prior to issuing a letter of warning, FSDO found that he had only a PPL, no instrument rating, no multi engine rating. The letter of warning of course resulted in a more serious penalty.

  • Jim Seaman

    Just to clarify for those not familiar with RVS. RVS was using 1L/R that day with a departure heading of 007 degrees. There was track and altitude information available on the first day after the accident, but I note that it is no longer there. Info, if I remember it correctly, was from very shortly after takeoff until the target disappeared. Toward the end of the flight the aircraft turned further left from 300 to about 270. Rumor has it that there was a “mayday” call, but I do not know if it was on tower (probably) or on approach or when it occurred. Presumably, we will have access to the tower and approach tapes when the NTSB releases them. I got the initial NTSB report through a link on the Tulsa World website.

  • Larry Clark

    Check the NTSB report and the Flightaware IFR flight plan for N1228H The flight was 5 minutes long. The climb rate was only 180 ft per minute. It’s not clear if he had a instrument rating but he did file.

  • William Campbell

    For those not rated, the procedure is generally, call ground report N# IFR to destination. Grnd will advise flight plan and then provide clearance limit, route, altitude, frequency and sqwauk code. Pilot then reads back the clearance completely. If so, ground say read back correct, and you get clearance to taxi to active.
    A call is made to tower when ready for take-off. Once cleared one then flies the flight plan as issued. Frequency, at RVS for example, would go to Tulsa, then ultimately to center. My flights in and out of RVS have always been from OUN, which is in Norman OK. Sometimes I have gotten KC Ctr and sometimes FTW center, but I have always talked to someone from start up to landing. No flight plan would have been filed for a VFR altitude without some question being raised. I did this recently when I changed an existing VFR to IFR flightplan and forgot to change the altitude, when I called clearance delivery I was informed the altitude was not an IFR altitude and I amended it. Even so, the altitude was only cleared to the proper IFR altitude.
    I am guessing that he was attempting to fly the river, hoping for something better to appear. My experiences at RVS have always found very helpful and attentive ATC personnel.

  • David West

    I pulled up the pilot’s certificate on the FAA website and there is no mention of an instrument rating. I also retreived the METARS that were issued out of TUL before and after the accident they are posted on my blog. (I know Tulsa is not the departure airport, but it was quite close). As I stated on my blog,, the pilot had no business flying in the foggy conditions without an instrument rating. Furthermore, he was flying much to close to the ground. It is my believe that he was attempting a scud run beneath the cloud layer. He irresponsibly departed in conditions that were beyond his training and three people paid the ultimate price for his poor decision. His private pilot certificate was issued in 1987. Why would he not take the time at some point during the past 22 years to get an instrument rating? If you don’t have yours, get it! You’ll wonder how you ever flew without it.

    As for the comments regarding obtaining instrument clearance, I regularly fly from airports in Class B airspace – Charlotte Douglass, Tampa International, Las Vegas McCarran as well as towered airports beneath the Class B and I have never had to wait for a clearance longer than the time that it took the controller to pull it up. I have had to wait as long as 10 minutes at the hold short line for landing and departing traffic from CLT and TPA, but this is certainly no more excessive a wait than the airlines have to endure.

  • Jack


    You might want to check a chart. Oklahoma is flat…in the NW portion of the state. With seven mountain ranges in the rest of the state, most on the eastern portion, the state as a whole is far from flat, although hollywood seems to like to depict it as such. The pariticular tower this man hit is on a hill top almost straight north of RVS, and just west of downtown, which he would have also hit had he gone to the east. RVS is in fact surrounded by hills on three sides but the airport itself is in the river valley created by the Arkansas river.
    Years ago a fatal airline accident happened when they were trying to divert around thunderstorms. This was in the far southeast portion of the state. One of the final cockpit conversations was the pilot telling the co-pilot he need not check elevations as “everyone knows Oklahoma is flat”. They flew right into a 2000′ plus mountain seconds later (mountain is defined as a verticle rise of 2000′ or more from the surrounding terrain. Poteau, OK thus claims to have the “world’s highest hill” as just to the east of Poteau rises a 1998′ foot hill.) This is all in an area of the Sans Bois, Kiamichi and Quachita Mountians, all in SE Oklahoma. NE Oklahoma, where Tulsa is located is basically the edge of the Ozarks, more specifically where the Boston Mountains and the Ozarks converge, mostly to the east of Tulsa. Please don’t tell anyone though, as eastern Oklahoma is a wonderful, unspoiled, very green area. Once people come here we cannot get rid of them….hence the saying “the thing Oklahomans fear most?….a yankee with a U-haul.” Although I find the texass people with U-hauls almost as annoying.

  • Dan Coffman

    “There are old pilots and bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots”


  • Jim Seaman

    More to the point; “Flying is not inherently dangerous, but it is terribly unforgiving of error”

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