“A Random Act of God…”

August 5, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

“It was a random act of God for that plane to have zeroed into the smallest house around.” So said the owner of a vacation rental property in Gearheart, Oregon, a seaside community west of Portland, as quoted in media reports. Details are sketchy at this writing but it appears that a rental Cessna 172 took off from the Seaside airport with two people on board in the early morning around 0630.

As is usual for that part of the world, it was foggy. The Cessna crashed into the house about a mile from the airport and a three alarm fire resulted. So far, there are three survivors with injuries and three confirmed dead that were inside the house. The pilot and passenger are presumed dead.

Ground fatalities caused by light aircraft accidents are exceedingly rare, which is small comfort to those affected but it helps the rest of us understand the real risk. It’s way too early to cite specifics but here are some points for pilots to consider. An IMC takeoff requires thorough preparation and concentration. Close to the ground there are few options.

First, is the decision to go itself. Suppose the engine quits. It’s rare but it does happen – now what? How much ceiling and visibility would you like to have—just in case? Every hundred feet of additional ceiling yields maybe another ten seconds of maneuvering time to avoid obstacles. Likewise, forward visibility is at a premium. What if the primary flight display or the vacuum pump just packed it in? (See last week’s blog.) Are we ready for partial panel before even settling into the routine of normal instrument flight?

Statistically, it is more likely for the pilot to have a lapse or become distracted at a critical time. These are normal human failings and early climb is the place to be on guard. Nothing else matters but keeping the wings level and a positive climb flight attitude. Spatial disorientation is always a possibility for a variety of reasons. Open doors, open windows, ATC communications, passenger distractions, anything that takes away from gaining critical altitude is irrelevant.

I’ve had both lapses and distractions in my flying over the years and have learned from each one that there are better ways to deal with them then I did at the time. I suspect most of us have had a few along the way.

There is always tremendous pressure to speculate on accidents like this. In this case, mechanical or instrument malfunction, pilot lapse, spatial disorientation or incapacitation are all possibilities. I’ve been wrong way too many times to repeat that mistake.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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137 Responses to ““A Random Act of God…””

  1. Wsinsel Says:

    I find it incredible that you put this crash off to “god”. Anything that man finds unusual or disturbing is instantly accredited to some entity other than himself. I can be fairly certain at this point that a man was at the controls and despite popular or cultural misinformation or superstition, I can be fairly certain that a man in a machine caused and is responsible for the accident. I’m disturbed by the fact that most of the time you seem pretty fact concious and yet in the face of this incident you flee to hide behind superstition. This gives question to the credibility of the rest of your words, at least for me. Just once I’d like to see someone try to stick to realistic reporting and commentary and leave the superstitons for Sunday and Halloween.

    Willie Sinsel

  2. Rex Brewer Says:

    The quote about God is not the authors thoughts. The quote is about the improbable point of impact, not the cause of the accident. Read what the author wrote, we can all always conrinue to learn if we avoid an emotional reaction that distracts us from productive thought, and better decisions.

  3. Leonard Fauver Says:

    The “random act of God” remark was a quote by the author of the rental property owner, not the author’s opinion. Let’s not shoot the messenger.

  4. David Reinhart Says:

    My first real IFR departure since training was the Thursday before the AOPA Fly-in. We were heading to Frederick early and our home base of Fitchburg was IFR. I delayed our departure until the ceiling went to 1,200-1,500 feet. I wanted 2-3 minutes at a climb rate of 500fpm to get the airplane trimmed for climb speed, make the turn to 90* that BOS departure always requires, and make the frequency change to departure before entering the the clouds. That ceiling gave me enough margin for an engine-out return and was above minimums for the NDB approach back to FIT. I also had an abort planned to Hanscom with the plate out and briefed for the ILS there. Low and slow is no place to have problems IFR.

  5. Wsinsel Says:

    I stand corrected and yet the author still chose and printed the title of the piece. By all accounts, a tragic accident. My sympathies to all those at loss.

  6. Jack Spectre Says:

    Perhaps you should read more than the title before commenting next time.

    It’s very easy to get distracted during all phases of flight. It’s hard to break your brain’s habit of focusing on one issue for too long – a few seconds can mean a stall. Hopefully we’ll find out soon what went wrong and then we can learn from it.

  7. Jerry c Says:

    According to Flightaware there was no IFR flight plan on file for this plane’s tail number when he departed. Not trying to speculate on a cause but the weather conditions were described as “foggy” and yet this may have been a VFR flight. I guess we’ll have to wait for the NTSB report to know more facts.

  8. Don Fischer Says:

    Over the 25 years of my flying career I’ve probably heard all the many speculations about what happened in regard to aircraft accidents. Most of them are incorrrect because the speculators don’t know the facts. The fact that does amaze me most is how long it takes for the real fact finders, the (NTSB), to report their findings. I speculate they they don’t want to speculate.

  9. larry opoliner Says:

    Lets also appreciate that even the final NTSB report might contain some degree of speculation. As the ‘pilot rated passenger’ in the crash of N21423 that killed my two friends last year, I would like to see the NTSB assign a scale of certainty to their conclusions. NTSB probable cause was “The pilot’s misjudgment of distance and altitude during a night approach for landing, resulting in an in flight collision with wires and the ground.” Unfortunately, I do not remember the crash but I do remember the approach was uneventful. Both the pilot and I have flown that approach numerous times, including at night, and we had enough working GPS units to line up on final without any problems. The NTSB conclusion was based on a statement that I gave them while I was in the ICU, infected, and on drugs. Reading the report at this time I can not imagine that I asked the pilot why we were off to the left and him responding “because we are going to crash”. I truly believe that we tried to abort the landing for some reason (animal on the field?), stalled, spun, and crashed. But the report is final and that is the way it will stand. Just because it is written, does not mean that it is correct.

  10. Ken Olsson Says:

    “Just because it is written, does not mean that it is correct.”
    It is frightening, though not surprising, that “investigators” accept as gospel (sorry: accept as fact) the statement of an injured person whose thinking is understandably unclear. Did they follow up for clarification after your convalescence or merely take dictation that day and accept it at face value?

  11. larry opoliner Says:

    I discussed it with the investigator afterwards and was told that I could file some sort of addendum but the report would stand as is. I have nothing at stake so did not jump through the hoops, but I just wonder about statistics generated by these ‘facts’.

  12. Jim Heidere Says:

    The airplane in the photo which accompanies the article looks like N46336, a Commemorative Air Force Interstate L-6 which lives in Princeton, NJ. If so, I wonder where the picture was taken.

  13. Joern Meissner Says:

    I have done some low IMC departures and can only support Bruce’s concerns about their risks. Setting and obeying personal minimums is the key to safety. Confidence in the aircraft and familiarity with it come next. There are so many more distractions in a rental AC and so much less knowledge about the hick-ups to be expected. Would I do a low IMC take-off in a rental AC? Well, I violated that personal minimum also after being stuck in Kingston Ontario for 3 days in fog, albeit in a C172 that I knew rather well. Would I do that again? Who knows. How can we mitigate the risk that we lower our personal minimums because of circumstances?
    As Bruce said, distractions are the most probable risk. I mitigate this risk partially with technology: no entering of IMC without a functioning autopilot; no entering IMC without at least a hand-held moving map GPS.

  14. Daniel Kappler Says:

    Hopefully one day advanced navigation technology will help to reduce some accidents. Using a virtual landscape could help us to improve the situational awareness. On the other hand pilots using airplanes with such an equipment can be too bold and trying to fly in all kinds of weather. It’s almost like using a PC based Flight Simulator. But there are always changes that the display will go dark and the pilot is left with the mechanical instruments.
    NTSB’s guessing could be minimized with aviation gadgets too. How about a continuous electronic data update of every conducted flight to the NTSB servers. In any incident or accident they could access the data and make conclusions. Big brother is watching you!

  15. glenn metcalf Says:

    I had a personal case of take off distraction into IMC. It was a pre dawn take off and my strobes were on. Extreemly distracting when entering IMC. Fortunately my pilot passenger started tapping on the panel before I strayed far wrong. BTW this “pilot passenger” was my father so he had been tapping on the panel since I was about 14. He passed away in 2001 but still taps on the panel every time I leave the ground.

  16. John Gordon Says:

    Does it strike anyone else as illogical at best that the government that prohibits pilots from operating an airplane under the influence of drugs (totally logical), yet the same government will allow the same pilot while under the influence of drugs to provide information about an aircraft accident and report it as fact even in the face of that same pilot recanting their information, when no longer under the influence of drugs! In other words, ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

    If you’ve ever visited a friend or loved one in the hospital while they are sedated or under the influence of medically prescribed drugs, you no doubt have experienced first hand the incredible things they can say; like my Dad for instance, while in his hospital bed, when asked where he lived, told his nurse a town he hadn’t lived in for fifty (50) years! Now, if he had said that to the NTSB they would report it as fact and if later told that was incorrect it would then become his job to jump through hoops to correct their poorly collected information….and people wonder why citizens look suspect at their government! Let’s face it, the truth is less important than the process or is it the work required to do good work — ahhhhh, perhaps we are on to something.

    In any event, as some wise person once said, thank goodness that I don’t get my money’s worth from the government — amen to that. (ist poster, can I say amen? Ok, I mean thank goodness for that….no, that either…hmmm. Ok, how about, I am pleased with that FACT….naaa: AMEN TO THAT reads so much better!

    Safe Flying!

  17. David Teter Says:

    Mr. Sinsel,
    I’m not quite sure how to take your comment where in you connect Sunday with superstitons based on the article, “A Random Act of God.” Are you implying that the worship and praise of God that takes place in churches accross this land on Sunday is an exercise in superstition? If your answer to this is in the affirmative, I suppose you think that man has evolved from an acorn and that the millions of people who have celebrated the birth of Christ every year for the last 2000 years have all been duped by the tooth fairy.

  18. Abbas Haider Says:

    I first began flying December 2006, obtained my private May 2007 and my IFR rating October 2007, purchased a Cessna 182 and every since have been a member of AOPA and also read the NTSB reports from time to time. Thank you Bruce for publishing this article because it does help me remember that there a myriad of distractions and decisions that must be thought about carefully and some overcome, before starting the plane, much less the run-up or taking off.

    I have a family of 4 and say a prayer each time I hold short of runway __. There are certain things we have no control over, but as a responsible pilot (not just for my safety and life, but those in the plane and on the ground), I appreciate the reminders from articles such as yours … they help me fine tune my skills everytime I think of enjoying the blessings and gift of flight.

    My prayers are with those involved and effected by the accident.

  19. Kevin R.C. O'Brien Says:


    thoughtful take on a tragedy in the headlines. Sometimes the best thing to do with a flight is not do it (I am sitting in a hotel at the moment, watching the weather carefully — thunderstorms convinced me to interrupt a flight home before they interrupted it for me).

    We do get spoiled by the general reliability of most aviation systems (the dreadful vacuum pump being the single notable exception). There’s one reason primary training focuses hard on emergency procedures, because those skills (whether it’s partial-panel for instrument pilots, exit from inadvertent IMC for visual pilots, emergency landings or autorotations) have to be embedded deep in muscle memory to be done right. How many times have we seen (or in my case, written) a news story where a pilot standing next to an airplane or helicopter in some emergency landing spot says, “It was just like in training, I’m so grateful to my instructors for preparing me for this,” or words to that effect?

    If one is an instructor, one bears the burden of instilling this automatic skill. While we know next to nothing about the Oregon tragedy, we do know that the pilot either faced an impossible situation or didn’t make the right decisions in a possible (but perhaps very difficult) situation. One really can’t judge much from initial media reports, because initial media reports of almost everything are wrong to a greater or lesser extent. But one can do what you did, Bruce: use the topical reference as a prod to get us to think.

    It’s got to be a bit depressing when the first comment on your post is a nonpertinent troll; but really, a lot more people read these posts than comment, and I believe that you are making most of us think. (I always try to follow the Navy’s wardroom rules on off-limit subjects, when responding to an aviation blog post. Works for me, anyway).

    Finally: we are too few, we pilots. Each fatal mishap diminishes our number and robs us of a brother or sister, not to mention the human disaster that it visits on families. My condolences to the families of all five victims. And all of you, take care out there.

  20. Jeff Pierson Says:

    Mr. Teter, there is a tiny minority of humans that can actually discern superstition in it’s popular forms. We call ourselves skeptics, or brights, or free-thinkers. Many of us trust physics, and not a savior, on Sundays, to lift us from the humdrum of earthbound life. The Christmas celebrants are also a minority on this earth, with other superstitions outpopulating them. It takes intellectual honesty and heaps of bravery to clear superstition out of your belief system, but you will end up less conflicted. Try it sometime.

  21. Patriot Says:

    Mr. J. Pierson

    You are wrong in your comments of religious celebrants. First, 86% of the world population is religious; you are in the 14% group. But I guess the 86% are fools right? Physics is merely MAN’S attempt to explain and understand the physical forces of nature and has nothing to do with the origin of the substance of earth. Your limited view of the world and its forces is due to your limited thinking and reluntance to accept any other explanation for something that is otherwise unexplainable.

  22. John Majane Says:

    Very Tragic Accident. The reports don’t say if the flight was IFR but I assume it was. I think back to when I was a young dumb and fearless pilot. We used to leave for the Beach out of College Park, IFR and we could not see the end of the runway. We would be in the clag before I could pull the gear up and I knew the trees were right below me. By the grace of God I got past that silliness. I look at this accident and realize how dumb I was!

  23. B. Earnest Says:

    Mr. Pearson was talking about YOUR tooth fairy. You deceptive religious types are too quyick too include the rest of world religions in your statistics only to later condemn them all. The house happened to be there because a man built it there. The plane went into thr house with a man (or woman, sorry for the generic use of gender) at the controls. Now we as pilots are trying to glean insight as to how to keep tragedies like this from happening. Your tooth fairy will continue to sit it out along with her believers. You keep praying and people of action will solve the problem.

  24. Samuel Messiter Says:

    I find nothing wrong with the reference or allusion to GOD in aviation circumstances. If HIGHER POWER or INTELLIGENT DESIGN would better suit Mr Sinsel, so be it. If he professes agnostism or atheism, so be it also. I frankly don’t care what his belief-credo is…and also frankly wish he would keep it to himself instead of the quasi-reference that he does not have such beliefs and may be suggesting that we sholdn’t have them either.

    What is it about the foxhole and the non-believer?
    Who is whose co-pilot?
    Prasie who and pass what?

    Samuel Messiter

  25. James Mahlen Says:

    Having read the article and these follow on commentaries I am struck be a couple of things: My deep felt sorrow for the families of those whose lives were lost as a result of this tragic event.. And how quickly any beneficial information within the article was lost because of being offended by the statement of someone … not connected to the crash. The purpose of the article (I believe) was a preliminary news or event report of the known facts and some educated speculation about the cause.
    (now I take to risk of deflecting the conversation … but to set the record straight) If you are secure in your knowledge of God, you know that nothing he does is “random” and not since the birth of Christ has he taken a life and never taken an innocent life. The phrase “random acts of God” is something used by those who don’t know, to explain hard things, with out having to take the time to think about them. It’s the easy way out.
    The reality is, somebody screwed up and because of that people died. It is tragic that innocent lives were lost, but that again is a fact.
    I usually find that the term “accident” used here and in other events, is not correct. These events usually occur as a result of a series of events. Any event in the chain could have been changed or altered to prevent this outcome.
    Based on this article, the first event that could have resulted in a differing outcome was the decision to take-off in IMC.
    Of course that statement was made with the benefit of knowing the outcome.

    and Jeff, get your facts straight, Christianity is still the majority of the world by about 1/3.

  26. Tom McIntosh Says:

    Incredibly sad, and we may never know exactly what happened. What we do know is that the two younger children of one of my wife’s colleagues are dead, the clinical staff of a major medical university (University of Colorado) mourns with him and his family, and that three others are also dead, plus three injured seriously. We can only hope that ALL airmen learn something in the aftermath of this tragedy.

  27. Peter Lane Says:

    NTSB will come up with some reason true or logical but perhaps flawed why the accident happened. They will never be able to determine the reasons why the pilot decided to depart in IMC VFR or otherwise. We can speculate all we want but the fact remains that 5 more people are dead because some ” private pilot” no matter how good he might have been made a bad decision that makes us all look bad.

    IMC departures are always a challenge but if properly briefed to oneself and others helping with the flying can be executed safely. My very first training departure in instrument training was a simulated IMC departure under the hood. My recollection is that we did lots of those and they all started and and went through the same drill. Centerline, rotate, positive rate, gear up, maintain runway heading through 1000 ft AGL–and nothing else– until at the MSA for the airport or on the published departure. Any other distraction would have to wait. IN 40 years of flying outside of training I have had occasion to fly about 5 low visibility departures but I still remember the drill like it was yesterday. If we all fly the proceedures we are taught and live by the numbers that fit the airplane it is hard to get outside the box.

  28. Charlie Julius Says:

    I will be especially on alert when flying from now on. I had no idea there were this many athiest in the skys.

  29. Stan R Says:

    “the millions of people who have celebrated the birth of Christ every year for the last 2000 years have all been duped by the tooth fairy”.


  30. Keith Says:

    What a great article and I appreciate everyone’s views on God, but this is not the place for that debate. I will pray, however, for Mr. Sinsel

  31. Charlie Julius Says:

    I have celibrated the birth of Jesus only for the last 53 years. I would like to meet someone who has celibrated for 2000 years. Bet they could use a nap.

  32. Jody Says:

    Why is it on these comment sections, folks always stray from the subject?
    Why do they all pick apart every word the author of the article says?
    Did any body read the article on the CBS website when the crash happened?
    The comments were vicious. We have become a mean society.
    The crash happened, lives were lost, and they author was just giving his thoughts. Period.

  33. Josh O Says:

    This article is a good reminder to always plan for options in flight, especially low IFR.
    Now, with regards to religion… I am a highly educated individual AND I’m a Christian. I reject the idea that Mr. Pierson suggests that to be Christian is to some how call into question one’s intellect.

    I believe God is my copilot and even in tragedy he has a purpose that will be revealed to us someday.

    Until then, I will pray for the families of those involved that God will comfort them in their time of need.

    God bless,

  34. Rob Auerbach Says:

    As a pilot of 25 years I can comment that the best decisions I have ever made are the ones where I did not launch either because of equipment or conditions. Legal minimums are NOT the key, it is personal minimums. Most pilots do not fly enough or are proficient enough to depart or land at absolute legal minimums with confidence. Yes there is pressure to get to meeting, vacations etc, but that is where pilot in command really comes in to play. I remember once that due to a special set of circumstances I was going to fly 3 people to a world famous celebrities’ house for a private lunch and an afternoon of fun and I would be included in all of the activities. Morning of the flight the area had a serious line of T-storms in area that was not going away any time soon. Tough, but I canceled flight to big disappointment to all, but it was the right decision.

  35. Jim Gardner, CFII Says:

    VFR Departure in IMC
    Years ago I was teaching a primary ground school and had two students approach me to ‘finish up’ their flight training. They had soloed, but stopped using their previous instructor for reasons unknown – a common situation in my experience as a free lance CFI. I agreed, and began flying these two young men over a period of weeks. After about a month, one of them told me of a Saturday morning departure he had made in the Cherokee 180 they owned together. This had occurred just prior to their joining my Private Pilot Course. It seems on that Saturday morning, he went out to a rather quiet airport and was the only person around. He untied and preflighted his plane, and started it. No one else was on the radio, either, and he noted that the sky was grey. Taxiing out to the runway, he did his run-up & pre-takeoff checks, and took the runway for takeoff. Adding power, he accelerated down the runway normally, lifted off, and was passing the mid-point on the runway when everything went grey!

    He paused at that point, and I said something of an exclamation, and then “Ed, obviously you then did something right, because you are telling me the story now, a month or so later”. It was obvous to him & to me that he had done something VERY WRONG – he had not checked the weather prior to takeoff as a newly soloed Student Pilot. And it could have , but did not cost him his life. Ed said that he realized he was in a cloud, and immediately looked at the attitude indicator, and seeing a climb, he lowered his nose. After a short noose down wait, and pulling the power, I think he said, he saw the runway re-appear. From my experience both before then and after this conversation, I know that he could not have been more than 150 feet in the air, and he is a very lucky pilot to have lived through this encounter with weather. But he kept his head & kept on flying the plane! So even a low time student pilot CAN MAINTAIN CONTROL.

  36. Tim Milz Says:

    I find it incredibly insensitive for many of you to discuss religious beliefs in your responses. This has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with learning how we can avoid the same sort of mistakes made in this case. Get real people.

  37. Paul McAllister Says:

    The loss of a child is a brutal emotional experience. The grief is inconsolable and the experience is a life sentence. Perhaps an outpouring of compassion for the affected families would be more appropriate rather than any debate around “Act of God”

    My thoughts and prayers are with the families.

  38. Thomas Perry Says:

    I leave others to their own beliefs about their god, their comments do not affect my own opinions about cause and effect unless I choose to.

    Sorry, did not read all the comments, but, regarding the comment about a PFD packing it in – You’d better damn well be ready for your PFD to pack it in if you have one. Otherwise you should not be in the air.

  39. Herb Jacobs Says:

    Our condolences to those who have died. Nevertheless, the lawyers will not sue God. He is out of the jurisdiction.

  40. Dan Unger Says:

    MAN, MACHINE, WEATHER: Of the three main factors looked at during an accident investigation, MAN, is always the most difficult aspect to pinpoint as the probable cause. You can see how distracted man can become by just reading the comments to Mr. Landsberg article.

  41. Joe S Says:

    You just can’t explain these tragic events.

    A similar tragedy happened to a friend of mine, Joe Grana, just three short months ago. He departed from Chesterfield (FCI) with his father on 4/27/2008 at 10:16am and his Mooney crashed at 10:19am. He and his father were both killed and a home burnt to the ground with the person inside being severly burned.

    Joe was instrument rated, and his father was a former commercial pilot (worked for Gruman, TWA etc.) He filed IFR to Franklin where he planed to fly some approaches. The weather was 800 overcast with 5 miles of visibility (normal IFR, not low or very low). He was flying his clearance until 1400 feet and then started turning abruptly (right then left then right the left then right) as if he was struggling to control the aircraft. What happened up there is still speculation.

    Preliminary NTSB report



  42. Charles Caldwell Says:

    Willie Sinse, your words have no place with the matter at hand! This pilot and his/her passengers succumbed to a horrific conclusion for a reason! Why would you would want to interject your opinion of religion in a negative manner such as you have done. The facts are these people died for the wrong reason(s). Let’s move forward to reason why it happened and focus in on how to prevent the next one from repeating the episode!

  43. Van Papier Says:

    This accident is most tragic and the real event(s) that caused the accident will most likely only be known by God since most of the evidence was either destroyed in the fire or died in the accident so the NTSB will most likely provide an educated guess based on what little evidence is left.

    But I think the intention that Bruce had in the article was to promote good judgment in his fellow pilots. We are all judged and affected by accidents and if we can learn from them and avoid making the same mistake in our flying then the deaths here will not be totally in vain.

    As a couple of the comments alluded to, having a methodical approach to initiating flight and a good decision process prior to and in the flight will help to avoid accidents and minimize their potential. Understanding the conditions, knowing if we are flying out of them and when, having a plan for the unexpected, tools to help us if we run into the unexpected ( like GPS set up for the emergency return or alternate landing path / Checklist / Storm scope / radar ), and some real experience with interpreting the weather all help.
    Most flights would not happen if we listen to the briefers “VFR Flight not recommended” yet we all have experienced so many flights where the conditions were really VFR and fine. So do we become complacent and ignore the warning, expecting the briefer to be wrong yet again. Or do we learn how to interpret the data and make our own decisions. Experience helps but everyone makes mistakes and you have to live through them to learn from them (or hopefully, learn from other people’s mistakes).

    My wish is that the NTSB would expand the accident reports to describe the weather briefings that may have been encountered, what data may have been miss-interpreted, what data may have been used to help clarify and what we as on lookers might do to avoid the same trap that the accident victim made.
    Pilot error or bad judgment in my mind is not detailed enough for most people to learn anything from the accident. But rather a detailed discussion on the surrounding facts and information available and how it should have been interpreted and what other things could have been done to mitigate risk, or avoid it would be a better tool.

    One comment mentioned, “stay at home, sit in the hotel room and wait, or rent a car and drive” the real difficult question is “how do we best make that decision”. How do we best learn decision making and data interpretation such that we can make the best decision? Gleaning anything from other peoples mistakes is certainly one tool available, but the NTSB could do us all a favor by providing a report that would walk the rest of us through all the facts and possible facts that could help us understand what may have been the decision factors and how to correctly interpret them and where the “victim” may have made their mistake(s). Bruce did a great job with addressing some of this.

  44. Wade Singleton Says:

    Your “attention getter” headline has certainly garnered response. Your assessment of the accident at this early stage is well written (except for the use of ‘then’ for ‘than’ in the next to last paragraph. Sorry, my “writers group” mentality), bringing forth some “thought provoking” thoughts. The sad part of this, and other similar GA aircraft accidents, is that someone died because someone else made a critical error in judgment, whether a passenger in the airplane or another innocent on the ground.
    As you point out that you have escaped being a statistic, having made errors in judgment at times, if we all were so honest we, too, will admit our blunders and escapes from a like fate. Be assured, I have made my share of “pilot error” decisions over the last nearly half century of flying, and feel blessed indeed to be able to talk and write about them.
    A major part of my instruction to every prospective or active pilot is
    Risk Management. There is no appointment, short of saving another’s life, worth the risk of venturing into the unknown, and every time one flies into the soup the unknown is just out of sight, beyond that gray wall of visible moisture.
    Thanks for your dedication to helping all of us to think about flying safely.


  45. Frank Loeffler Says:

    The low/no ceiling takeoff decision, part 91, of course is up to us. I suggest to my instrument clients that a good starting point for that decision is circling minimums(obvious reasons, I think). Take it up or down from there based on other relevant factors(‘I’M SAFE’, aircraft maintenance/history, etc.).

    Every flight is risky!


  46. Dave Purscell Says:

    What a surprise to find the discussion of this accident headed in the multitude of directions that it did. Would love to have the rest of the faith vs fact blog elsewhere. But then I probably would not have run across it.

    Charlie, I love your comment. Don’t lose hope. Despite the vocal minority, people of faith always have represented a vast majority in aviation. Personally I proudly profess a faith in my risen Lord and Savior, Jesus. As much as I love flying, to me aviation is just a tool for me to serve my master.

    As for the dissenters, I applaud their skepticism. Salvation through Jesus doesn’t come from a wishy-washy belief. Those of us who honestly claim that relationship aren’t guessing, we aren’t supersticious, and we aren’t hiding from the facts. Please feel free to dig deep. All of creation speaks the glory of God. The scientific method, when used according to the scientific method, proudly proclaims a creator. One has to really pull the wool over their own eyes to not see it.

    Where I disagree with them is their harsh criticism. Me thinks they protest too much. :)

    But my Christian forefathers founded a nation to ensure (among other things) the right to free speech — even when used inappropriately. I along with many others over the years, both Christian and not, have been and are still willing to fight to the death to protect that right.

  47. Ron Lee Says:

    Several people pointed out the main ways to probably avoid this type accident (assuming that it was pilot error). Stay on the ground. Know your limits. Don’t fly even though it means you don’t get to a special party and you disappoint your passengers.

    Give the the facts such as weather, location of house relative to airport and take-off direction, was the engine running at impact, pilot skills, ratings, etc and I can make an educated guess as to the basic cause. Yes I am not the NTSB but let’s face it. The main cause of GA accidents is pilot error. I can’t say that was the case in this event but odds are that it was. We shall see in due time.

    You want to learn from this? Great, but if you have a license you should already know not to do certain things. Some times staying on the ground is your best choice.

    You want to keep this from happening again? Hopefully it won’t since this type accident is reportedly rare, but pilot error is something you won’t completely eliminate. The author discusses general things that help a pilot make the right decision if he takes them to heart. But what if you have three passengers who want to get to a party with a rock star. That is tough pressure that may override your normally good judgment.

    As for the title, unless something like lightning struck the airplane and caused it to crash into the house, and you call all nature acts “Acts of God”, I would not assign something that may have been pilot error to an “Act of God” regardless of who used in first in the event.

  48. Reg Barnsdale Says:

    Thanks Jim G CFI, and Rob A for staying on topic and giving such useful info on THIS topic. This is what I (we?) need and and should strike a nerve for all pilots

  49. Stan R Says:

    “All of creation speaks the glory of God”

    Just Christian propaganda – Always feeling the need of any chance to push their belief system on others.

  50. Gary Sturdy Says:

    I have to assume that this pilot did not file a flight plan or thought the huge number of questions by the briefers was annoying. This last week-end my family and I flew from Nampa, Idaho to Skagit Regional, Wash. All briefers and Seattle radio were very careful to make sure I knew about the IFR conditions and obscured mountains on my planned route. Alternate airports were planned before the IMC conditions took affect. To some it would be annoying, to me I say thankyou for making sure I have all my ducks in a row. Past grading of the briefers has been poor. They have been improving and in this case was very helpful. Listen to the flight briefers, even when they don’t tell you what you want to hear.

  51. Bob LeSage Says:

    I live in the Pacific Northwest. We have suffered 4 tragic accidents in the last week or so, with the loss of life on board on each one. But none have affected the local pilots, or population, as this one. Its the talk of the airport with heads bowed, tears, and a true wishing that one could of done something to stop it from happening.

    The conversation usually ends with , “what in the heck were they thinkin”

    I hope God holds the Souls of the 3 Beautiful chiildren closely, and can comfort the hearts of their loved ones, because I doubt any human could do it adequately.

  52. Terry Says:

    Dave Purscell; well said.

  53. Ken Krewson Says:

    I believe Mr. Landsberg was quoting the property owner.

  54. Tim Crane Says:

    The man whose children died in this incident is one of my employee’s best friends. People here are mourning. As a father, a pilot, and a member of this community I hurt for the parents who lost their children. My thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this tragedy.

    For those of you posting, remember there is a Dad suffering the loss of two children. Two children were burned to death. The mother remains in critical condition, fully wrapped in bandages from the burns. The elder son, who jumped from the window, is hurting beyond imagination. And let us not forget the families of the pilot and his passenger. Regardless of what caused this accident, it is prudent for us to use this as a reminder that when faced with a decision “to fly or not to fly” we are not the only ones at risk.

  55. Todd D Says:

    God weeps.

    We could all stand to be more understanding with each other on the worldview question. It’s hard to do, isn’t it?

  56. B. Earnest Says:

    Your head tooth fairy and your nursery rhyme book have always claimed to be a minority. Are they all wrong? (It covers creation through all end times). My comments are not intended to diminish the trajedy. My deepest thoughts and sympathies to all concerned.

  57. Dan S. Says:

    I live about 10 miles to the north of the crash site. I just happened to be driving by about 15 minutes after the crash (on the way to work) and the ceilings were about 200 overcast and about 1-mile visibility. A check of flightaware.com indicated that there was no instrument flight plan filed for the aircraft. Seaside Airport (56S) does not have any instrument procedures. If there were no clearance or instrument flight plan, I would question a departure in those conditions. Considering the proximity of the airport to the town, I would also question how the pilot would be able to maintain the required 1000′ over the city in those conditions, while remaining clear of the clouds. It will be interesting to see the final NTSB report.

    Lastly, I agree with “Wsinsel” that the witness comment that it was a random act of God is absurd. I am often dismayed by human beings who believe that an entity that supposedly controls everything sits back and “random(ly)” (and precociously, I might add) decides to somehow take hold of a plane in flight and direct it into a house containing 5 innocent people! God supposedly knows all and sees all. If so, how could the act truly be “random”?

    Bottom line, a human was at the controls of a device made by humans. Decisions and actions (good or bad) were made that day, and either those decisions, and/or decisions and actions by those involved (and/or by others made at an earlier time) caused the accident. Even if there were mechanical failure, the question of the departure itself remains. No deity was involved.

  58. Robert G Says:

    The term ‘Act Of God’ simply means, “That which is outside of human control”: Lightning; hurricane; flood, etc. In this case, it seems that it was used not to specify the crash, but where that crash occurred.

    I remember once, flying back to DC from Richmond, that I was in a bit of a rush due to incoming storms. I checked the radar, I checked forecasts, I checked all that I knew to check and felt I had time (if I moved quickly).

    I hopped into my Cherokee, took off, and headed for the DC ADIZ. As I got close to the ADIZ, skimming all of the no-fly zones, I saw a cloud in front of me (most likely from the power plant). I called Potomac Approach and they said there were no clouds and no reports of clouds. I turned around, landed at a nearby airport and double checked with the same effect: It’s fine to fly there.

    So up I go (with hopes the cloud went its merry way) and, being a moonless night, got unexpectedly nose-to-nose with the cloud. I did a hard bank, my wingtip disappearing in the vapor and the strobes momentarily blinding me. I had had enough and headed back to Richmond, got a late-night hotel room and rented a car the next day (the clouds did roll in).

    It cost me close to 500 dollars extra, but I figured that it was a heck of a lot cheaper than the Cherokee, medical bills, and even the cost of the employee from NTSB. Plus, it allowed me to be here, spouting off my own mindless commentaries.

    Regardless of religious beliefs, nothing replaces good judgement in unexpected and difficult situations.

  59. Jerry Hensley Says:

    To the afflicted families, May God Bless YOU. And for those of you that speak up for God, may you be commended and your lives be blessed.

  60. Gaye A Says:

    First, I would like to express my sympathy for the families of those lost in this tragic accident. Members of my family were friends with the pilot.

    Second, if you will read your history and your Bible (God’s Word) you will educate yourself and know that the early Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. Also, Jesus was not born in December. That was the time of the celebration of the birth of the sun (not son) and was absorbed into Christianity some 400 years after Jesus’ birth. You will find no instances in the Bible where Jesus said to celebrate his birth, only the command to commemorate his death. We know the exact date of his death. If we were supposed to celebrate his birth, don’t you think that date would have been given to us?

    I am sorry the quote from the home-owner was repeated “Random Act of God” as this supports the continuing mis-belief that God causes his beloved humans pain and suffering. We are responsible for our pain and suffering. God is there to comfort and support us when bad things happen.

  61. Bob Nickson Says:

    I am 56 years old and have decided to fulfill a long time dream by becoming a student pilot. There’s something comforting about saying a prayer to the Almighty God before I even start the engine in my rental 172. By doing so, I acknowledge verbally, no matter how good I may THINK I am as a pilot, or how clear of a mind I may THINK I have, that ultimately I am not the one in FULL control of the flight. Whatever we humans indulge ourselves in, all of us must believe that certain indelible aspects of living is the unmitigated submission to forces beyond our control. By doing so, we can have no fear of the future and have more confidence in our piloting decisions. This accident, like any other kind of fatality, proves to me that we are never guaranteed to live more than an instant from the present. So be well prepared in advance and live as if it were your very last moment on this earth.

  62. Guy D Paris Says:

    Interesting read…. My 50 years + of aviation, and still. The old pilots and the bold pilots or who knows. Most of us have been probably able to say, “I will never do that again”. And then I remember my boss saying many years ago, “Yes flying is risk intensive” Minimize the risk. Operate as we were trained and hopefully learn from others mistakes….

  63. Ron Swartz Says:

    Wsinsel is an idiot to try to turn this tragic event into his atheistic rants. How thoughtless and uncaring of either the pilot or the people on the ground. It amazes me at the insensitivity of such hairbrain people. May God bless all the families affected.

  64. Larry C Says:

    What a lot of fluff and bother with these religious discussions!!! Mention “God” and everyone is up in arms–no wonder we have Crusades, Jihad, etc. This is about aviation, not religion!!!

    The pilot, Ketcheson, appeared to be well-qualified with a current Medical. Flightaware did not show an activated IFR flight plan, and the local news reported the same. Having been caught at Seaside airport in fog once before, I could understand (not condone) his decision, since it took me 40 min. idling while on the cell phone to get an IFR clearance in this no-radar area. In addition, local papers report witnesses hearing a normally-running aircraft seemingly “buzzing” the area just before the crash.

    To me, this points to a pilot willing to push limits to go where he wants to go (and maybe get over his head with, perhaps, instrument failure). As a CFI he should have been familiar with needle, ball, airspeed, but maybe not proficient. Whether it was carb ice, instrument failure, or something similar, we may never know. But lesson learned, to me: What is the Way Out of this bad situation? If you think on it and the answer is “none” then don’t go. Like flying over the water or mountains at night, low-fog takeoffs have little or no Way Out, so maybe that’s the time to sit and wait until there IS a Way Out.

  65. bill sutherling Says:

    Very informative.
    Is there any data showing that more accidents/number of flights occur when passengers are in the plane than when only the pilot is in the plane?
    Good examples of pilot distraction that could have been the cause of the accident. Strobes in clouds are one, talking with passenger is another.
    Suppose the passenger said:
    a religious expletive and the pilot got upset and replied, or just as bad got upset and started stewing about it .
    a comment like your hair is getting pretty thin
    (even in a joking way, it could rub you the wrong way)

    With due respect to everyone’s religious beliefs, even though the key point here is to avoid an accident, … emotionally charged words (especially religious or political) always hit a nerve (like a two second comment could do in a cockpit) and have occupied half the text (half the thinking time) to discuss and solve the problem. I guess though this is a human factor that I may have been underestimating, and I am more susceptible to it than I realized. I usually think of emotion as anger BEFORE you get into the cockpit, but this discussion shows me it could just as easily be triggered by one word of a passenger ALL OF A SUDDEN, RANDOMLY, maybe on takeoff.


  66. Dan S. Says:

    Re: Larry C.

    Well put!

  67. Steve%20from%20Seattle Says:

    I have several thousand hours of C-182 time and have been licensed since 1983. Much of that and experience has been acquired flying to and from the Oregon coast, usually on IFR flight plans. The spectre of this accident is haunting as the conditions at the coast are very often as has been reported for this incident (not sure I am prepared to call it an accident yet). Low IFR, fog, zero or little wind and a powerful seduction to just take off IMC and “pop out” at 500 feet or a little more when you want to “go”. I’ve seen many pilots do it, and most get away with it. Even in rental aircraft. Then there is the one exception…

    When you want to take off in IMC (and I mean immediate IMC as you track the centerline of the runway) think about all those daredevils on the ground in front of you. They didn’t ask to be part of that thrill. If you want to be a risk taker in spite of the potential downside of these types of flights (even Part 91, IFR approved versions) make sure you will be able to point your nose out to sea or down a river or at a mountain so that you won’t take anybody with you if you turn out to be one of a thousand, or one of a million.

    This incident should be a powerful lesson to all of us – and one that should affect future flying, not just a memory of a “bad accident”. Prayers for the family.

  68. Stephen Mann Says:

    Don Fischer said: “The fact that does amaze me most is how long it takes for the real fact finders, the (NTSB), to report their findings. I speculate they they don’t want to speculate.”

    How about they are overloaded. There are on average TWO aircraft accidents PER DAY in the US. Fortunately, less than half include fatalities and far fewer include injury to people on the ground. This crash made national news *because* it was news.

  69. J. Bryant Says:

    Bruce and all AOPA Air Safety Foundation Supporters,
    Thanks for the great job you do to make flight, pilots, passengers and ground dwellers safer than they would be without you. I believe everytime your organization writes an article (such as this), publishes a manual, provides a dvd or makes a speech or presentation on air safety you make the skys and ground safer for everyone. I hope people who read this will do what I have done and make a real difference in aviation safety by joining AOPA and making a contribution to your fine organization. Doing so just might prevent another tragic accident/incident such as the one we are currently discussing/debating here.
    JW Bryant
    AOPA Number 05088784

  70. Jack Kouloheris Says:

    It will be interesting to hear what happened. A quick look on Airnav after the accident showed that Seaside Muni has NO instrument approach procedures. The news reports talk about heavy fog in the area at the time of the accident. I couldn’t find any historical weather data for the accident airport….but launching IFR from an airport with no way to get back on instruments seems questionable. Perhaps the pilot had a takeoff alternate a few miles away in mind…..

  71. bill sutherling Says:

    By the way,
    I did not mean to appear insensitive on the religious issue. I think everyone’s view can be respected. Although I tend to believe in a higher power than myself, others may not or may disagree with my particular views or with the specific text in the Bible I have read. As we all know many people have concluded that this religious question cannot be answered by logic. They seem to say that faith is one domain and science is another. They can exist side by side, maybe so can we.

  72. Bruce S. Says:

    If I may suggest, let us refocus this forum back to aviation safety and accident prevention. Many things in our lives remain unexplained and get written off as “Random Acts of God” until later they become explained.

    From the sketchy facts, appears that the cause will come down to one of those we pilots are trained to manage, be it IMC departure, partial panel, pre flight weather briefing, go-no go decsion, aircraft control. I am reminded of one of my old seasoned instructors who told a story of a pilot in Alaska who was severely overloading a Navajo. He pointed this out to the pilot as well as his passengers, but the pilot insisted everything would be fine. He went on further to ask each passenger for the name of their next of kin–and they gave it to him! That was convenient because the aircraft took off and failed to clear the trees at the end of the runway, killing all aboard according to his story. As a professional pilot, the pressure is always there to push both legal and personal minimums. Several times I have reminded myself and my crew that these people don’t pay us to be so cavalier with their lives. That includes the folks on the ground. If you can’t see your way through known weather, an engine failure, some mechanical malfunction, you need to rethink your decision to go. Isn’t it odd that so often God provides a nice sunny day following a weather related accident for the investigation.

    The NTSB won’t be able to give the cause as a “Random Act of God”. Safety is not served unless they are accurate. I still find it strange that a logical sequence of events disrupting an otherwise accident free life of the Concord resulted in withdrawl of the Airworthiness Certificate, while at the same time TWA 800 was blamed on potentially explosive electrical flaw in the fuel system. Yet not a single B747 was grounded, a lot of explanation to debunk missile reports? So I sympathize with Mr. Oberliner’s comments. Sadly we must learn on the backs of those who made mistakes before us. We just can’t live long enough to make them all ourselves.

  73. E. Park Says:

    Wait a second . . . are you guys saying there isn’t a toothfairy ?

    and that from a Physical standpoint the world is NOT flat ? I mean it looks flat to me even when I’m at 8,500 feet.

  74. M. Keller Says:

    Not to appear insensitive but from what I have read in the article and following posts / comments, it seems that poor planning by the pilot and not using good judgment to stay on the ground for better conditions for flying is the major cause of this tragedy. Just my thoughts and belief from having lived and flown in that area for numerous years.

  75. Steve T. Says:

    Religion aside, I’ve flown in and out of Seaside (56S) many a time. This is truly tragic for all involved, and my heart aches. From this low time pilot’s perspective, with an ‘inactive’ IFR rating: there’s no radar out of Seaside for several thousand feet. There’s no radio contact available either, and an IFR clearance requires use of your cell phone. The decision to go on a day when, according to all witnesses, fog would have likely have precluded landing at Astoria, where an ILS approach is available, was based upon the presumption that Murphy’s Law would be suspended, and the aircraft would perform as expected. It may be legal to depart; the question must be for anyone on the runway: is it safe to depart? If the answer is ‘no'; then don’t go. Period.

  76. Ernie Wilson Says:

    And it was all unnecessary. Endless blessings to the innocent.

  77. Wiley C. Barritt Says:

    The title of this A Random Act of God is so wrong God does not cause accidents to happen he doesn’t just kill children these thing happen and the Devil is to be blamed more than anything. GOD doent punish not yet judgement day thats when he will punish.
    Cal Barritt

  78. Alan Malone Says:

    I fly exclusively for recreation. I have held an ATP for 20 years, and am a thoroughly qualified instrument pilot, with over 17,000 hours of experience.

    I have come to the conclusion that establishing personal minima and adhering to them religiously is an important part of casual, personal-use flying, particularly in single-engine aircraft. My personal minima are 1000 ft. ceilings and 3 miles visibility. With these minima going for me, I feel that I have at least a chance of finding a place to park the bird after breaking out the bottoms of the clouds.

  79. B. Earnest Says:

    Josh O: 8-8-2008 9:26AM
    Not being highly educated like you, I wish to ask:
    Do no planes wreck that started out with God as the co-pilot?
    That’s a tooth fairy that even I could wish for.
    How much for that instrument?
    I’ll bet he/she will jump at the last second and then condemn me in the next instant?

  80. noel barker Says:

    what a lot of “content’…….after reading all these fin e “posts’ ,it never ceases to amaze me the potential for academic discussion about “aviation” especially “risky’ aviation ….my heart goes out to all those who lost love ones in this event…after flying some “forty years” as both a general aviation pilot and instructor(cfii) I won der why God spared me all these years after making many “foolish” mistakes……take care all who “aviate”…………..

  81. Keith Bumsted (AOPA 478617) Says:

    While we do not know what the NTSB will eventually say about this so-called accident, we do know a lot about the circumstances and what happened. The weather was “foggy” and if you’ve been on the Oregon coast you know that generally means visibility is severely restricted, especially at 6:30 AM when darkness still prevails. The Seaside airport is strictly VFR — no instrument approaches. It is also surrounded on three sides by the terrain of the coastal range where nearby mountains range from 1,000 to over 2,000 feet. The coastal layer of fog can extend up to mountaintop levels as overnight coastal winds push moisture up against the bowl in which Seaside is located. The aircraft involved was a rental plane. How likely is it that the pilot was given a thorough checkout that included IFR skills and a restricted visibility takeoff under IMC???

    It is perhaps fitting that you reserve judgment about the official cause(s) of the accident since you are the head of the ASF. However, the circumstances under which the flight was initiated clearly point to a mega-stupid decision to launch by the pilot resulting in five deaths, extensive property damage and the loss of an aircraft, to say nothing of the on-going trauma inflicted on surviving families and the people of the Seaside/Gearhart communities. Do you think the image of general aviation is enhanced or that local youth will be encouraged to become pilots as a result of this accident?? Do you think the local FBO who rented the plane will benefit if it is found that “they did nothing wrong?”

    By issuing a statement that says “well, we don’t really know what happened so we shouldn’t speculate” simply infuriates people who know that such mayhem does not result from a properly functioning general aviation system. The public in general and the aviation community in particular have a right to demand more responsible behavior on the part of FBOs and pilots.

    Regardless of what the NTSB says about this matter, it is very clear that the aviation community (that’s us) must do much better at weeding out pilots who are incompetent, irresponsible, arrogant, and undisciplined, and it must start with the flight training community. The missing element in flight training, both initial and recurrent, is discipline. We leave it to natural laws and the flight environment to selectively eliminate pilots who violate boundaries of good operating procedures and common sense (a role that it plays very efficiently, without remorse or apology!!). Instead current aviation training standards focus on minimum knowledge, minimum skills and perfunctory recitation of a few judgment issues to certify pilots. We don’t teach discipline and instead focus on what’s possible in the regulatory arena. No one gets to the left seat of any aircraft without first going through a flight instructor, and, as a group, they fail spectacularly in instilling discipline and risk management/control procedures. Without serious reform in this arena, we’ll go on killing 500 to 600 people a year in general aviation.

    AOPA and the ASF have a leadership role to play here. Don’t expect the FAA to lead. Instead, they’ll follow if it becomes clear that the aviation community wants to upgrade the standards and change the way pilot training is conducted.

    We need to do better — much better — if the results are going to improve!

    Yours for a safer, more responsible aviation environment.

    Keith Bumsted
    Boise, ID
    AOPA 478617

  82. SITCH Says:

    The act of GOD was as many have said the choice of location to have an off runway landing. I live close to the accident, I know of the pilot, I have flown out of Seaside. At this airport you can fly clear of the clouds and that would have been just under 300ft. Reports indicate that the pilot was circling. A person on the ground heard the plane out of one window then out of another. It sounds much like a pilot that was VFR then suddenly went into IMC and was trying to get back to VFR. The reports of the engine sputtering might have been carb ice that was just a complication of going into IMC. Reports on the ground said he departed very quickly after he pulled the a/c from the hanger(maybe a poor preflight). The bottom line is this is a form of manslaughter just like a person making a poor decision on the road that kills others. They call it an accident but there was a risky decision that was made that put many peoples lives in danger. Across the road is a condominium complex that would have seen a much greater carnage. Let us just all learn from this experience when we are in a go no go decision that we think of the families that will never ever get over this and how one person can change peoples lives forever

  83. alex Says:

    I wish people would just be honest with themselves and quit attributing tragic events to some unseen deiety. There is no evidence of any higher power looking over your shoulder and any conversations that you have with your God’s leaves you with a one sided conversation.
    Life is an unknown and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is just not telling you the truth.
    I realize we live on a primitive planet, where war dominates over reason and superstition still reigns. Just a few hundreds of years ago people were being burnt alive because they were witches.
    I don’t think it took very long before some smart cave man decide that he could scam a living from his tribe if he could guarantee that the sun rose every morning and that offerings needed to be made to the sun God and himself.
    Well superstition has progressed from sun gods too moon gods to many gods to a single god, which one would you be believe in if you lived 10,000 years ago?
    I realize that being human gives us the insight of our own finite mortality and therefore the need to convince ourselfs of a life ever after floating with wings (sounds like fun) with all the angels.
    For all of you folks with magic books, get real and face life like a man.

  84. Cary Alburn Says:

    Interesting–many beatings around the bush getting off track seems to have been the norm. The issue is safety. Is it safe to take off in a very low vis situation? My answer is “no”.

    In my IR training some 33 years ago, we made many “zero/zero” takeoffs, with my CFII reminding me each time, “Don’t do this for real.” Then one night during the election cycle of 1984 (I was flying the wife of one of the gubernatorial candidates from rally to rally in a well-equipped Mooney that I knew very well), I took off from CPR in “zero/zero” for real into thick fog. My only “out” would have been to land again on the 8700′ runway. Several hundred feet up, we broke out, and the sense of relief was enormous.

    I’ve flown in lots of IMC since, but never again will I do a “zero/zero” takeoff. The risk is way out of proportion to the benefit–and at my age, I like life too much.

    Part of our jobs as pilots is to minimize risks, for ourselves and for our passengers. To do otherwise calls our judgment into disrepute and invariably damages the image of all of general aviation.

    I am truly sorry for the loss of life and injuries in this tragedy. Without meaning to digress as others have done, I have prayed for the families who lost loved ones. Their pain must be enormous, and they need all of the comfort that they can receive. I know only one place to get that comfort.


  85. Andy Crane Says:

    These tragic deaths are the basics of my fear of flying. I have enjoyed flying for over 20yrs and believe that there are very few better manipulators of flight controls, com and nav radios than I and can greased the landings with regularity.

    I fear the stupid judgement or flight control mistakes that can be made in a split second by either myself or someone else. I fear being a participant in one of these accident inquiries. I fear being the cause of someone’s else misery. So I have a superstitious ritual to deal with this fear.

    Before I take off, I promise the aircraft that if it “don’t screw up, I won’t!” Now I am only at the mercy of “Acts of God” things beyond my control.

    Regardless of your beliefs we are all subjected to forces outside of our control, you can call it God or Karma. What we should take from this incident is how fortunate we are that our names or names of our love ones are not in this report.

  86. Greg C Says:

    The NTSB reports need to be taken with a large grain of salt. Of the several accidents I’ve been close to (none of them mine, thankfully) they were flat wrong about half the time. Granted, these tended to be aircraft ferry accidents, which can be a bit non-standard, but the is a lot of guess work and preconceived notion involved in those reports.

    That said, there is still a lot to be learned from others experience.

    After thirty years of overseas ferry work and single engine night freight, the one thing I can be sure of is that things will break and/or fail, usually at the worst possible time. Be prepared, although in some cases all the skill in the world still leaves some things out of your complete control; night single engine failures being one example. Even if you do everything right, aircraft slowed and under control, what shows up in your landing lights in the last few seconds is somewhat random. If you’re not prepared to accept that then you should not fly under those circumstances. The same applies to single engine IFR in low conditions, you may not like what you see outside your windshield when you break out of the overcast at 200 ft after an engine failure, and you may not get that much ceiling!

    All life is risk but you should know how much risk you’re willing to take after assessing your skills and the current equipment and weather.

    As a PS…I’m amazed that anyone is still flying around with gyros powered by a dry vacuum pump. The wet pumps almost never fail, and when they do, they tend to fail over a period of many hours. The wet pumps cost about the same as dry pumps and are still listed as approved on most piston aircraft engines. You do need to add an air/oil separator, but a Walker/Wolf/whatever-it’s-called-now separator takes care of your crankcase vent too and is not expensive. All dry pumps ever did was kill people and create a whole new industry of back up vacuum systems.

    I’m lucky, I fly a turbine single with a mix of vacuum and electric instruments and the vacuum is provided by a venturi powered by bleed air; and I have a back up alternator. It doesn’t make me bullet proof though!

  87. Nekobasu Says:

    As a Roman Catholic, I was always taught that God gives us all free will. To me, that translates into meaning that He doesn’t violate the laws of physics (which, presumably, He invented) for any person’s personal benefit or as punishment. Every so often, someone’s actions, desires, or even prayers are coincidentally followed by an event that appears related. For instance, a couple weekends ago, NPR interviewed a number of people who didn’t commit murder but felt responsible for other people’s deaths. One guy told about asking the Devil to kill someone when he was a kid. Lo and behold, the next day, that kid was struck by lightning and died. Did the Devil answer his wish? No, it was a coincidence.

    I doubt that even the rental property owner who Bruce Landsberg quoted from media reports actually thinks that God intervened in such a way as to aim a Cessna 172 into a small rural home. For those who believe in God, most don’t consider Him to be so mean. I suspect that the small home most likely lies just beneath within 30 degrees of the centerline of the departure path of the nearby airport. If a plane is going to return to Earth about a mile along the departure path, it has only so many places to go. Statistically speaking, if enough planes crash about a mile after departure from that airport, one is bound to hit any structure there, including a small house.

    So, how could the tragedy be avoided? Well, all the intelligent things everyone has said so far about pilots making the right decisions, and never exceeding personal limits are true. In addition, structures; especially residences; should not be erected anywhere near the departure and landing paths of airports. As pilots, we should all fight tooth and nail against every construction of residences, schools, shopping areas, and places of worship near airports. The public will complain about the noise from airplanes, and get GA airports shut down, and they imperil themselves by putting themselves directly in the crash path of planes making unscheduled landings. In short, zoning laws should incorporate “intelligent design”.

  88. Scott Says:

    As tragic as this is, we will hopefully all be able to learn from this accident. Whether it was mechanical failure, pilot error or whatever else it may have been… We can store the eventual findings in our internal checklist. I realize the NTSB is not perfect, but unless you were actually involved in the event, you will never be 100%. Even surviving passengers will not always recall events as they ACTUALLY unfolded. It will always be their interpretation of, let’s face it, probably the most traumatic event they have experienced. So things get a little gray. You would hope the the glaring facts rise to the top, resulting in an more accurate than not report. I hope I am never in the position to question one of their reports.

    From my own experience as a pilot, I know there is a lot to think about when lining up on center (both on TO & L) and stories like this make me want to concentrate that much more.

    I guess my point is, whatever the cause, let’s learn and make ourselves that much better at something very few are privileged (and capable) of performing – powered flight.

  89. barry Says:

    The silver lining is that if this was pilot error, we humans are still in control to prevent and avoid terrible accidents like this. If it was from some force beyound our control, then we would be in for bigger problems. There is no doubt that this was an accident; no one wants to crash. The problem , if not mechanical or medical, could be failure to take precautions; which is 99.9% correctable. My prayers go out to all.

  90. Ryan Noble Says:

    Are we so self involved that we turn the loss of three children into soap box opportunity? Get over yourselves and think about the children and their parents.

  91. J McCormick Says:

    If God is your copilot, you need to switch seats!

  92. Julio Carbonell Says:

    Leaving the God issue aside, the reality of this accident is still unknown…however, if the tanks were full and with three passengers, maybe the 172 was overloadead as well. Weight + weather + somehting else, its called layered risk. Basically it should have been a no-go, period

  93. B. Earnest Says:

    Ryan Noble:
    I don’t see that anyone has missed the opprotunity to express deep regret for the loss of life here. All pilots take it personal and hard when one of our own is blamed for such an incident because the tragedy is obvious.
    J McCormick:
    Hopefully you never have to explain to the NTSB that god was your pilot.
    everyone else:
    Comments and insights about your own experiences are very helpful and it seems most conclude from this that taking a better look at the go/no-go decision is in order.

  94. SteveF Says:

    First of all I would like to express my sympathies to the family that lost their loved ones. Would everyone please give up disecting the God comment. You are all reading way to deep into that comment. All that comment meant is that the house was not targeted on purpose. When our loved ones are taken from us by an accident then sometimes God can be the only explanation we can accept.

  95. Alex Says:

    Jesus, this is an article about a terrible event that touches everyone that take flying seriously. I am not a native english speaker, and not exactly religious, but I think I know what the “act of god” expression means in light of US cultural ways. It’s even mentioned in US laws, I once read. And that’s it. It’s an expression. Why deviate from the real limportant issue here? Who cares if some pilots fly with their God as their co-pilot while others fly with Isaac Newton’s laws to reassure them the plane won’t fall? Probably even more pilots fly with both views in their mind, or their hearts. Both ways are equally good if they fit you. All this arguing makes me wonder when the other guys are called the religious extremists…

  96. Don Gaunt Says:

    In 65 years as a pilot, and over 23,000 hours,I have always thought I was the co-pilot and God was the pilot.!!

  97. Richard Ellsworth Says:

    I have been flying for almost fifty years. While my sympathies for those not involved are great the man (or woman) in the left seat is in charge. God, controllers on the ground, and what ifs do not control the destiny of the flight.
    I have had vaccuum failures, magneto jumps, engine failures and made bad judgements but ultimately the success or failure is my responsibilities and due only to my choices and actions. Don’t be a part of the younger “it’s not my fault generation.” Step up, take responsibility and be prepared to do the best you can do and regardless of the outcomes you can live with the results of your actions. Stay current, train, keep a sterile environment on TO and landing, be aware or your environment and realize only you are the ultimate person responsible for success or failure of the flight

  98. Clay Baker Says:

    If someone on the ground said, “The Pooka Did It…” – would you title the article “The Pooka did it…” Of course not. Is is not a fact. neither is “A Random Act of God…” It’s difficult enough sorting out truth from fiction when reading from the “Mainstream Press” so who must you add it it. Just the facts, sir, just the facts…

  99. Rick Thoresen Says:

    The weather report for Astoria (approx. 10 miles north) at the time of the accident was: broken, 300 overcast, visability 5-6 miles. The conditions at Seaside would have been the same or very close. The bottom line is God had nothing to do with it. This can only be attributed to poor judgement. Tragically at the cost of 5 lives.

  100. Bernd Myler Says:

    I am flying since1996 with the privat licence and sinc 2004 IFR rated but whn it comes down to safety I don’t cut corners. I have learned flying the hard and have teached safety very well from both of my instructions I had. I always say better safe then sorry and lif is to short. I stay current, and if I need to there is an Instructor with me to figure it out what we need to improve. I will call this accident poor judgement for now.

  101. R. Jeff Says:

    The “cause” was taking off in the first place in poor wx conditions single engine. Plain and simple. If u aren’t there it can’t happen!

  102. Al S. Says:

    It is unfortunate that pilots do not have a vision into the future to prevent such tragedy. My deepest sympathy to all individuals involved. This article once again proves that religion and politics should remain seperate issues…everything is too subjective…and opinion based. Less decisions are required in the air if more are made on the ground. To all……fly safe!

  103. Karen Fenton Says:

    Let’s forget arguments about “acts of God” and blame, and look and pray for another family Right now, in Oregon, all eyes are on those in the house and plane. What about the widow, and two children of the pilot? Yes, he probably made a big mistake..I’m instrument rated and know the coast…but his family is undoubtedly suffering loss as well as guilt. I’m not sure that any clear judgement can ever be made on this accident, given the little that was left of the aircraft. On the surface it looks like the pilot made a great misjudgement, but the best thing we as an aviation community can do is support the families, and look seriously at our own flying decisions. Complacency can be a terrible thing, and the more we fly, the more we fall subject to it!

  104. Brett Christiano Says:

    Just a Question? Why do we always blame God for such tragedies. (“It was an act of God”) There is more than one spiritual power in this world !

  105. Steven J. Drake Says:

    It is sad day for every one who sits in the left seat. I am sure that the pilot who flew into the home never,ever dreamed of being a statistic. While I am a believer, God never pushed the power lever forward. Actually, God was probably whispering, asking , if you really wanted to meet him face to face today. Whether you believe in God or not, all of us still hear that still small voice. Call it conscious, God, or whatever. May I suggest we all listen to that voice, and fly safely. May God deal gently with all involved.

  106. D. Osborn Says:

    Do all letters get automatically published, or is there a screening process?

    I think the religious discussion should not be here. It is hard to learn when people are fighting another topic.

  107. Supinie Says:

    When I was a new pilot, my dad, who was also a pilot, told me that “you never HAVE to be anywhere.” Thirty years later, I still think about that advice when making a go-no go decision.

  108. D Brewer Says:

    Anger arises from fear. There is a lot of anger on both sides of the god arguement. It realy is logical here because people died and we dont know why. Lets let go of the anger and talk about airplanes. I like what an old mountain guide told me up on the middle fork of the Salmon river, ” These mountains can kill you,but they are not evil.” We all know how hard it is to hand fly in IMC. That plane probably did not have an auto pilot and spatial dissoreintation happens fast. I was with a pilot that was texting on his cell phone ( 100,000$ fine if they catch you by the way) his piloting skill went sour quickly! Flying is a big responsibility,if you are not on your A game dont go! Freedom comes with a responsibility clause. Enjoy it responsibly! Lets live and post comments like there is a god and he gives points for kindness and gratitude. If it turns out there isn’t ,then we havn’t lost much My heart goes out to these families

  109. Michael Says:

    God gives man free will. This pilot chose for himself and his unfortunate passenger, to depart into the given conditions. His own decision lead to the results. In my opinion, an act of God could be weather, or other natural circumstance. Was it an act of God for this aircraft to zero in on this particular house? Absolutely not. It was chance. The airplane was certainly going to hit something whether it was the smallest house or not.
    I have to agree with Brewer, let’s let the pilot take responsibilty for his decisions and not blame God for what is truly a tragic situation. I am a 1200+ hour commercial pilot with an instrument and multi-engine rating. Earlier this year I was flying with another pilot on a part 135 freight haul. I was the flying pilot. I took extra precautions prior to our departure because of the low ceiling and visibility. We entered IMC at a little less than 200 feet. About 10 seconds into the clouds, my co-pilot took of his headset, tossed it over his yolk and proceeded to dial his cell phone in an attempt to contact his wife before we climbed too high to get reception. All the while, I was receiving climb and departure vectors from ATC and configuring for the climb. I was extremely distracted by my co-pilots actions and became a little disoriented. Within a few seconds we were decending at 600 FPM in a left turn. At about 500 feet AGL I leveled the wings and put the airplane back in a shallow climb. I have a couple hundred hours of time in the clouds and couldn’t believe I let this happen. It is very easy to get distracted even if you are experienced.
    Let’s give the pilot the bennefit of doubt and let the NTSB and the FAA figure out what happened. Meanwhile, as pilots, let’s stay proficient and trained so we might continue to be the best we can be at operating our aircraft in a safe and efficient manner. Flying is huge responsibilty.

  110. Andrew Davidson Says:

    echoing Steven Drake:

    Both believers and atheists may benefit from a divine copilot. Glenn Metcalf wrote beautifully about his father still taping on the panel. It makes less difference whether or not Jesus will take the wheel, than whether or not we can free ourselves of the pressures of the moment to see from an exalted perch.

  111. Raphael Says:

    It’s possible that the pilot believed that no matter what happened he would turn out alright. Most of us are read or learned that poor ADM results in a big crap. A lot of you have made the best possible go/no-go decision about death. Last I checked that’s where we are all headed. I’d hate to wait to find out what God thinks of me. I’m glad Jesus Christ knows who I am.

  112. Doug Merrill Says:

    The title of “A Random Act of God” is somewhat provocative in that it can be interpreted in many different ways, many of which have been referenced in the above comments. Initially I was angered by the title but that is probably because that is one of my emotional reactions to the incredible tragic sadness. There are many stages of grief and I think some of these comments are in reaction to the various stages that each of us go through whether it be denial, anger, pleading, rationalization, acceptance and many more.

    Two of the children who died in the house were Sammy and Grace who attended St. Anne’s School in Denver. Their sister Elizabeth who was in the house survived also attended St. Anne’s. St. Anne’s is an incredible school that is diversified religiously, ethnically and racially yet one thing that unites all of us who are a part of this incredible St. Anne’s family is love and respect for ourselves, our community and each other. My son graduated from St. Anne’s in 2007 and was fortunate to have gone there for 9 years.

    I have ben a pilot for 37 years (commercial, instrument, glider and aerobatic) and have never had such powerfully intense diverse emotions and reactions to this tragically sad event.

    From an intellectual perspective, I am hopeful that many pilots will learn from this incident so as to maximize safety. There are many intelligent comments of waiting, of responsibility of the “no go” flight, and taking off in low ceiling environments to mention but a few.

    Sammy and Grace’s father, Fred, their mother, Marie, and their sister, Elizabeth survived the accident and will be tested and pressed to every belief they have ever experienced and many in which they have yet to experience. Although they are fortunate to belong to an incredible St. Anne’s family, a tragedy as substantive as this may welcome the prayers of extended community (you) for those who are injured, those who have died and those who survived.

    I pray that there is no survivors’ guilt (I fell into that trap for too long), that God will grant them the strength to grieve, and to find peace. Perhaps as a general aviation community, we can use our “God” or Higher Power for prayer for the Masoudi/Johnson and Jackson/Reimann families as well as the pilot and passenger’s families. Perhaps as the title making reference to God, prayer might be one suggestion to the many responses received.

  113. Michael S. Pierce Says:

    Fate and a Fine Day

    a fine day and following wind,
    when you’ve someplace to go.

    For this is a gift of Fate,
    a jealous mover,
    who can exact
    powerful vengeance
    on the ungrateful
    or the disrespectful.

  114. Kevin Swartz Says:

    My sympathies to the berieved. Sad that it takes this sharpen our own skills. To the athiests, Go study what 2008 means. Is it just a number or what does it count back to? Back at zero was the time of Jesus’ and before that was known as BC and numbers counted backward from zero to a few thousand years to creation. Because of the order (not chance )of creation, we have zulu and standard time and there is always twenty four hours and some minutes every day,and every four years it adds up to an extra day. Never changes. If physics and chance cause my compass to always point north then I’m scared to fly because it could gradually evolve toward the east or west . Just some unchanging facts to ponder for us. Oh yes the sun which faithfully comes up every morning which ALEX refered to. It is 93 million miles away and any closer or further would be devastating for us and the earth. Just chance and not evidence of a higher power? Are you kidding me?

  115. B Earnest Says:

    Are you kidding me?
    Upon further study I didn’t find jesus at the end of the rainbow or 2008.
    Even your fairy tale book scholars debate over what scientists find in goelogy and conclude there are more than a few thousand years “BC”. In just the last few hundred years man has changed enough to support the fact that time changes the biology of living things. Your best fairy tale scholars say the universe is expanding and that is how they try to explain creation only being a few thousand years back. Never changes? Why are we finding evidence of water on other planets IN THE PAST? Your brilliant scientists will change their story again just like they always have in the past as more discovery is made.
    Take courage, the magnetic compass is still pointing sort of North but that too changes with time. 8 feet a year last time I checked. You won’t be here to see the end of that story,and hpoefully your offspring won’t be afraid of the truth.

  116. Robert Kennel Says:

    I bet the witness who made the comment about act of god would change it to one in a million after reading all the blogs. Enjoyed all the comments.

  117. Kenneth Dattilio Says:

    Using the title ” A Random Act of God…” is just as stupid as the idiot from Gearheart, Oregon that said it in the first place. You both are no different than the two idiots that takeoff in the Cessna 172.

  118. sam ferguson Says:

    I have been flyin for almost 3 years now with my priv and IFR. I am amazed by the immaturity and irresponsibility of the flying crowd. I have seen planes buzz my busy uncontrolled airfield,(KOCF) I even had a baron take off right in my face using the opposing runway and ignoring the radio. I see no sense in burning holes in the sky, or flying around for a $200 hamburger: its a waste of gas. To take off in IMC without being aware of the potential consequneces, is just plain stupid and irresponisble. God asks us to be responsible, and if we arent, we, and others are going to be hurt, harmed, or killed. God is Love, Christ taught us that, and if we ignore it, it is going to be painful for ourselves, our loved ones and others.

    I think GA needs to take a hard look at it spurpose: maybe in the past it could be wasteful, and just a fun hobby, etc, but I am going to bet they better be ready to evolve into something different.

    My two cents.

  119. Mike Allen Says:

    Bruce, many congratulations on provoking a snowstorm of responses; if quantity = quality, you have succeeded!! However, if focus = quality, your respondants get a C–.

    I’m sufficiently cynical about many things, that my smile broadened in direct proportion to my progress through these posts.

    Your fundamental point is that IMC takeoffs are dangerous. I totally agree! I agree so much, that I refuse to teach them to my instrument students. Instead, I teach my instrument students that they should not attempt to takeoff until Wx at departure airport is at least equal to their personal (not published) minimums on a published approach at the departure airport, that the student and aircraft is proficient and current to shoot!

    To those students who say, “But what should I do if I have to depart?”, I respond, “Make sure your will is current. Why – on your own admission – do you have to die today?”

    To those who say,”Well, I will just find another Instructor who will teach me how”, I respond, “Goodbye, I wish you well”.

    My heart goes out to the parents and grandparents of the children that were killed by this pre-decisioned stupidity. I believe that the pilot community owes a sufficiently large debt of mature responsibility to the non-pilot community, that we should never make decisions about attempting to defy gravity, that create this amount of risk to the non-pilot community. Their trust in our ability to keep them (unconsciously) safe, demands more from us.

  120. SITCH Says:

    EVERYBODY..Please understand one thing the airport was 300 to 500 ft ceiling. Aircraft take off in this all the time. The air space actually allows for departure clear of the clouds(G). The problem was that just a mile to the west was fog to the surface(zero/zero). I think that he was planning to fly VFR on top and maybe had engine trouble (water in his fuel or carb ice) when he was on top and he tried to circle down through the cloud layer over the beach away from coastal homes. The problem was that he decended into a fog bank and lost situational awarness(the impact was less than a block from the beach). I bet conversations with the owner of the a/c or friends of the pilot…they will tell you he just popped up through the cloud layer w/o IFR clearance frequently. I have known pilots that just say “I found a little hole in the overcast to get through” when you know they were in the clouds. Also lets drop the issue about GOD being responcible it was the pilot and only the pilot. I know Greg Marshall that said that to the media, I will tell him about how much fuss everybody has made about that statement. I think he was trying with the best of his abilities to console the hurting families.

  121. Voodoobones Says:

    This is what we’ve become? As pilots we should know better than to lose sight of the facts.
    First off, let’s stop arguing dogma and remember there are a lot of hurting people out there because of this accident.
    Second, let us stop pointing fingers at people involved with this tragedy. We don’t have all the facts.
    And last but not least, let’s try to learn from this. There is a lot of lessons we can and will be able to learn from this.

    Remember, we are pilots. Let’s think like one. Dumb move or not, we lost a brother.

  122. Frank Minich Says:

    Is there a viable alternative to the vacuum-driven attitude gyro?
    Maybe something completely electrical?
    I don’t mean that the vacuum-driven one would be replaced, necessarily, but something to offer better redundancy would seem appropriate.

  123. Tom DeMarino Says:

    While I know from 17 years in aircraft accident investigation not to even suppose that I can surmise the actual cause of the accident from the outside looking in, I do see a possible problem with training and perception, some of which is reflected in the remarks presented here. Yes, IMC takeoffs are a greater risk. Yes, VFR takeoffs into IMC are a great risk. What is missing here is the facility. Seaside Airport is NOT an IFR airport. Its infrastructure is strictly that of a utility runway with very large trees very near the runway, and many obstacles on three sides of the airport. Something I have never heard espoused in training over forty years of flying is the runway design criteria. The 150/5300-13 document that the FAA publishes on airport design establishes some very strict rules on what minima, if any, can be accomplished based on the distances and heights of obstacles around the airport. This is based on the prudent execution of instrument procedures, including takeoffs, but gives thought to the flight technical error (FTE) of the pilot (i.e., how much error is inherent in flying the aircraft on instruments.) No one should have ever been taking off IFR from that airfield, period, but the pilot was an experienced CFI, with lots of flight time and plenty of time out of that airport. I do wonder if pilots as a group, we are not missing a key element of training that could have prevented this accident. Just something to think about.

  124. Eric Olsen Says:

    I have been an IFR pilot for many years with thousands of hours. I fly IFR regularly in Oregon and Washington and depart in low visability situations. I own a T210. I stay current. Personally, I trust that my engine will operate- some people do not make that assumption and change their departure criteria accordingly. I respect that. I contact Seattle Center on the ground obtain a void time and depart IFR climbing into the clouds. It is clear that this pilot departed VFR with mountains close on the east, the cold pacific on the west and tall trees and fog between. This was class G air space wtih one mile visability and clear of clouds. The departure was technically legal. I personally would not have a problem departing IFR with low ceilings but departing VFR skimming along the ground hoping to find a hole to pop through on the Oregon coast is playing Russian Roulette and shame on any pilot dead or alive that would take such an action. A lot of people are saying wait for the facts wait for the facts. Even if there was an engine problem the odds were stacked against this pilot for departing VFR in these conditions. Of course I feel bad for the pilot and victims. I am certain whereever he is he is kicking himself for a stupid decison.

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