The theory that wide open spaces generally preclude two aircraft from swapping paint or worse was put to the test this past weekend when a Cessna 172 collided in VFR conditions with a Cirrus SR22. Random events have been happening with some frequency (see last weeks blog) and yet they remain statistically unusual. In 2006 there were 6 midairs, in 2005 there were 10 according to ASF’s Nall reports.
As we tend to look at these mishaps a bit clinically, perhaps to maintain a level of objectivity and sanity, my condolences go to all – family and friends. These events are reminders of the responsibilities that we carry as PICs. This also applies to students since the C172 pilot was a student. Again, we are in the preliminary stages so little detailed information is available. The Cirrus was on an IFR flight plan, and had been in communication with ATC, planning to land at Rock Springs, Wyoming (KRKS). The aircraft was likely on a visual approach and had been released to the CTAF when it collided with the Cessna who was not on the ATC frequency, nor was he required to be.The parachute system on the Cirrus was partially deployed but it’s too soon to know if that was a function of the collision or whether the pilot activated it.
This midair fits the collision profile perfectly of being within a few miles of a non-towered airport in VFR weather. I’ve flown into RKS before. It’s not exactly high density traffic, which reinforces the point that other aircraft are where you find them, not where you expect them to be.
I’m a big believer in getting off the IFR communication line and on to the VFR CTAF party line as soon as possible. If neither frequency is too busy, you can multi-task by listening on both but it can get really garbled when both freqs are alive together. As IFR pilots, we operate in both worlds and have to play by two sets of rules simultaneously. It’s also too soon to tell if one aircraft ran down the other or turned inappropriately. That will be settled by NTSB.
There will probably be some comment regarding glass multi-function displays with traffic avoidance capability and parachute escape systems since the Cirrus was so equipped (parachute – yes; traffic display – maybe). These are intended as aids, not as replacements to the primary tenets of airmanship. I’ve used traffic avoidance systems to good effect on many occasions, but until we get all aircraft equipped with ADS-B or some equivalent, remember that VFR bogeys may not always show up on the glass. Transponder operation and radar coverage play into that. VFR or IFR – look (outside) and listen. It’s really important – even in Big Sky country (with apologies to Montana.)