With the cool weather quickly fading behind us, the increased danger of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from a faulty muffler also begins to subside. This is a concern I think about every time I fly my 59-year-old aircraft during the cooler months. While I’m confident in the maintenance and condition, parts do fail. Recently, there have been three CO events that could have been catastrophic. In December, a Mooney pilot was overcome with CO poisoning and passed out in-flight. After the aircraft eventually ran out of fuel, it glided to a crash landing in a field. Miraculously, the pilot survived and stumbled out of the wreckage towards the rescue team. In this case, the muffler was found to be cracked and this likely led to the introduction of CO into the cockpit. The other two cases are far less dramatic but stayed that way because of recent awareness and monitoring. In these cases, both pilots carried CO monitors that had alarmed. One pilot saw the alarm and immediately diverted for a nearby airport while opening the windows and cowl flaps. This pilot had a faulty exhaust stack. The other had a monitor that was alarming but did not hear it. Fortunately for him, he was aware of the Mooney pilot’s story and recognized his symptoms. He also immediately diverted and increased the fresh air to his cockpit. This pilot had a worn EGT probe hole that allowed CO to build under the cowl.
We’ve all seen the stick-on CO monitors on panels. Some of us may still have them. They are more than likely expired, and they are certainly not precise. There are far better monitors available. For less than $200, you can have an absolute understanding of the exact CO levels in your cockpit with audible, visible, and vibrating alerts. Since one of the worst parts of CO poisoning is not knowing it’s happening, these monitors make sure you know it is. Even though our instructors caution against CO poisoning and we know a faulty muffler under the heat shroud can cause a leak, there are many other sources of CO leaks under the cowl. A good monitor is worth every penny. This equipment should be on every pilot’s checklist next to the iPad/tablet and Personal Locator Beacon for mandatory equipment. For more information on CO monitors and interviews with the surviving pilots, check out instructor Max Trescott’s podcast Aviation Newstalk episodes 90 and 102. These stories are amazing, and the solution is readily available. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon at one of our upcoming events, so stay safe!