This has got to be one of the most chewed-over topics in aviation. Pilots who are either not instrument rated or rated but not on file, somehow find themselves in clouds and then not surprisingly often find that the ground or an obstacle has risen to ensnare the aircraft.
Most of these mishaps perhaps should not be called accidents in the technical sense of the word. Webster’s Dictionary defines accident as “an unforeseen or unplanned event.” Launching on a visual flight when the ceilings are running 400-600 agl and visibilities a mile or so doesn’t really strike me as “unforeseen.” Webster goes on to list the second definition of accident as “An unfortunate event resulting from careless or ignorance.” That starts to get to the heart of the matter and both those adjectives are not something that pilots should aspire to.
The 2009 Joseph T. Nall Report shows 21 VFR into IMC deals and 86% or 18 were fatal. All 21 are shown on ASF’s interactive map with links to each accident report from there. If you were looking for a quick way into the next life - this is one of the quickest and reading the narratives confirms the lunacy of such thinking.
Naturally, ASF has numerous resources to help one not to get into the careless and ignorant category. But how many times have you been given a VFR not recommended (VNR) forecast – decided to take a look and found the weather perfectly flyable? This becomes the basis of many pilots’ decision-making and it serves them well for awhile. But if you’re going to play the “let’s take a look” game it’s essential able to 1) recognize clouds when you see them and 2) be willing to turn around or land BEFORE getting into them.
We would be curious about your VNR experiences, pro and con, as I will be speaking with the National Weather Service later this month.