Wasn’t sure if this should go in the Pit or here…
As many of you already know, I fly small planes. For me, this is an expensive hobby, but it does keep me off the streets and out of the bars. I’m based at a small local airport which serves a variety of flying machines.
Well, every airport has a couple of guys who push the envelope. And maybe that’s a good thing if you’re a test pilot. Not so good if you’re an instructor or flying charter.
Anyhow, this one character who’s a senior instructor and a charter pilot has been a fixture for several years. I’ve been saying (along with other folks) for quite awhile that one day his arrogance would exceed his skills and he’d get himself killed. This was usually followed by an expressed desire that he be alone in the airplane when it happened. Mind you, this guy was good from a technical standpoint. Maybe even great. It was his judgement that caused concern, his willingness to take risks.
Well, last Sunday it finally happened.
And he wasn’t alone.
For those of you who may not know (after all, some of you are from outside the US), the Eastern US experienced quite a storm over that weekend. For two days - Sunday and Monday - none of the major airlines were flying anywhere on the East coast. Despite this, Mr. Charter Pilot took off in a small twin with a commercial-pilot-in-training for a co-pilot and, as passengers, a woman and her four children. They took off for an airport in eastern Kentucky, just shy of the Cumberland Gap and the Appalacian mountains. Granted, the Appalacians aren’t the Rockies - but they are mountains and to be respected. And while the area was not in the heart of the blizzard it was on the southern edge of the massive weather system.
On final approach into the airport they came in much too low. The airplane collided with trees which sheared off the wings and part of the tail, and apparently beat up what was left the plane - one of the children was ejected. The remainder of the fuselage impacted the side of a tall foothill/small mountain.
The lady passenger was some tough gal - despite a broken pelvis she apparently dragged herself and her three remaining children out of the burning wreck. Mr. Charter Pilot and co-pilot were dead on arrival, as was the young boy who had fallen out just prior to the crash.
It took a couple hours for emergency crews to get some all terrain vehicles up the side of the hill, given the weather and the landscape. Some of the wreckage was still burning. They took the survivors down the mountain, along with the little boy they found hanging from a tree nearby. They deemed the situation too hazardous to spend the time extricating the pilots, who were apparently quite dead (I did not ask for details) so they left them up there until the weather cleared on Tuesday.
Mother and three surviving children are expected to recover fully.
The pilots arrived back in Indiana later in the week. The co-pilot’s funeral is today. The chief pilot’s will be tomorrow.
Sad, isn’t it?
Just a couple things bother me:
If the airlines aren’t flying, neither should small charter aircraft which simply do not have the weather tolerance of a big jet.
There’s no excuse for flying that low on final approach. Especially since he’d flown to that airport several times before. On an instrument approach (which he was on) there’s supposed to be a minimum 500 foot buffer between the airplane and obstacles, frequently even more than that. Even a student pilot is expected to hold altitude within 100 feet. As a commercial pilot he should have done much better. Given his skill - which was above average - he should have been spot-on the proper altitude. Alright, there is one “excuse” - if he’d been carrying a load of ice. Another plane went down on the other side of the Cumberland Gap that same night due to ice build-up, so maybe that was it. Except - *he shouldn’t have been flying in such weather to begin with. *
He should have told the lady she would just have to get home a day or two late. If United, American, Delta, Southwest, Northwest, ATA, et al aren’t flying east - why they hell should they? Surely getting home a couple days late is perferable to broken bones and a dead child.
What do I think happened? I think the weather was worse than he expected - the clouds lower than would allow for a safe approach to the airport. Back home he’d been known to come in low. That’s dangerous enough at your home field where you are very famillar with local landscape and obstacles. At a different field, with vertical terrain nearby, that’s nearly suicidal. Maybe he had shaved a few feet off the minimums before and gotten away with it - this time, he kept going lower, hoping to see the runway.
He was a smart guy - I’m sure there was a horrified interlude between the time the trees did a cheese-slicer number on the airplane and the final impact. Although this gentleman was not my favorite person I did not wish any harm on him. I wouldn’t wish that sort of fate on anyone.
Needless to say, the mood at the airport has been quite subdued. He was the chief flight instructor. He has other students that must now find other instructors. It would not be surprising if some choose to quit flying. A new instructor will have to be found for his ground school class - which is not particularly hard, just disruptive. In addition to a widow, he leaves behind a mistress, also an airport employee, and a young girl. She has been too distraught to work. She may not come back to that job, we just don’t know. Can’t say I approve of the extra-marital relationship, but the girl did care for him and her pain and grief are genuine. Don’t know his wife, but she’s quite worked up too, of course, and has the additional aggravation of local reporters calling on her. What sort of jackass goes up to a new widow and says “How do you feel about your husband being dead?” She feels abosolutely shitty, of course, what sort of idiot even has to ask?
The co-pilot leaves behind a wife and three children. Also plagued by reporters although they seemed to have been a bit more successful at fending them off.
I’ve been in the flying game long enough to know the risks. There ARE risks, no matter how careful you are. What aggravates me most is this didn’t have to happen. This guy is well known for his boldness - if he had said “not today - not safe” NO ONE would have questioned his verdict.
Ego. Damn ego. That’s what I think it was. The arrogance of thinking there was nothing he couldn’t handle.
No, he wasn’t one of my friends, but his absence has left a hole at the airport. It wasn’t more than two weeks ago the two of us were cajoling cold balky airplane engines to start on a winter morning. I sure I wasn’t one of his favorite people, either, but we did have respect for each other. He was there just about all the time, and even before this when he wasn’t around folks would comment on his absence.
So - is this a Pit thread, or a MPSIMS thread? Because I don’t feel like ranting over this, I’m just… sad. Sad for the family that lost a child. Sad for the family that lost a father. Sad that someone with potential is no longer on this earth. Something went wrong, probably due to a stupid mistake, and three people died.
I really wish I’d been wrong about him.