Our safety record this year is trending to be a bad year.
Dateline – Oct. 26: The year is not over yet, and the last two months of most years have traditionally added negatively to the accident count. Hopefully, we will break with tradition and end the year with no more fatal accidents.
September added a 6th fatal accident to the count. It saddens me to report that the pilot of the Bonanza that crashed shortly after takeoff out of Cottonwood on September 17th died.
October further added a 7th to the count with the fatal accident of the Cessna TTx in Payson, with 2 fatalities, both Phoenix residents. Federal Aviation Administration officials say the Cessna TTx T240 went down under unknown circumstances around 6:40 p.m. Saturday evening. (By pure coincidence, the TTx just happened to be equipped with the Garmin GFC700 autopilot as highlighted in my alert in last month’s newsletter…)
To date our total count now stands at 7 fatal GA accidents and 15 fatalities, 10 pilots and 5 passengers. As far as I could ascertain, none of the pilots involved were APA members; 8 were Arizona-based pilots (those pilots we are capable of reaching with our safety programs), and none (as far as I have been able to determine) were registered or participated in the WINGS program. Having been an FAA Safety Counselor and a FAASTeam Rep for over 42 years (15 of them right here in Arizona and with APA), I cannot prove that any of the FAA and APA’s safety programs prevented any accidents, but I certainly believe so, and my humble (and biased) opinion appears to be supported by the statistics. According to the latest Nall report put out by AOPA, the GA fatal accident rate is trending downward, but not nearly as fast as we would like. Unfortunately, this year the Arizona numbers are reflecting a spike in accidents, with over twice as many fatal accidents this year versus the average for the last 3 years! Let’s hope that the rest of 2018 remain accident free. Please fly safe!
NOTE: The total accident rate numbers do not include the Papillion Helicopter crash up in the Grand Canyon back in February; that was a commercial operation.
A quick look at the NTSB’s accident reports does not reflect any particular pattern. The following is a down & dirty attempt to categorize the accidents in accordance with the NTSB’s view of the accidents and to give you all a summarized picture of the causal factors.
Two of the accidents were on the departure leg:
1. A Piper Commanche, possibly overweight and/or out of CG, stalled shortly after departing out of Scottsdale (SDL). Both pilots and 4 occupants perished.
2. A Beechcraft Bonanza out of Cottonwood (P52) presumably lost power and crashed shortly after liftoff. The pilot survived the crash but died a few days later from his injuries while in the hospital.
Categorically, four of the accidents were on the approach-to-landing leg: (This includes the Payson TTx accident reported above)
- 1. The Hirth glider had just completed two 360 degree turns to line up for landing at the Samply Airport (28AZ) when it abruptly pitched down, spun twice and impacted the ground. The pilot was fatally injured.
- 2. An Acroduster II apparently stalled during the left base-to-final turn to runway 25L and spun in at Deer Valley (DVT). The 2 pilots on board were fatally injured.
- 3. A Cessna P210 crashed approximately 1800 feet short of runway 21R at PRC while the pilot was performing night landings to maintain his currency. The ATP-rated pilot was fatally injured.
The sixth accident was an experimental Olsson Pietenpol Aircamper that departed out of, and crashed 2 miles east of, the Montezuma airport in Camp Verde, cause unknown. The 2 occupants, a commercial-rated pilot and a pilot-rated passenger were both fatally injured.
Approach to landings appears to be the leading category this year, although various versions and circumstances are also in play here. For example, during the pilot’s second flight of the day in the Hirth glider, while spiraling down to position himself for final approach, the glider suddenly stalled. An aerobatic AcroDuster II, in the hands of a new owner who just purchased the aircraft a few days prior and was out practicing landing his new airplane, accidentally stalled on the pilot’s 5th landing of the day during the left base-to-final turn to runway 25L at Deer Valley. The Cessna P210 accident at Prescott/Love Field occurred when an ATP–rated pilot was out practicing night landings on runway 21R and crashed short of the runway. NTSB says all were “Loss of Control” accidents, but this is just a huge bureaucratic lumping of accidents. What really happened to cause these accidents? Poor piloting skills? A simple misjudgment? A lack of proficiency? Aircraft familiarity/unfamiliarity? Night vision/depth perception issues? Hopefully, the final report from NTSB will divulge the real cause, but those reports often take a year or more to complete.
All of these accidents will be discussed at GAARMS VIII coming up in March of 2019, exact date and location TBD. Stay tuned. Watch for an announcement in our newsletter and on FAASAFETY.GOV, and we hope to see a lot of you there.
There I was…
It was the best of days; it was about to become almost the worst of days!
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, clear as a bell, calm winds, and with a forecast to get even nicer. Like most Sunday mornings at most airports, it was a great day to go fly off somewhere with the gang for breakfast. But this was not just anywhere; this was back east, on the eastern shore of Maryland, right by the Chesapeake Bay. Freeway Airport was home base at the time, located just 7 miles east of Andrews Air Force Base, just south of Tipton Army Airfield (which just happens to be adjacent to the National Security Agency [NSA] headquarters) and just west of the Naval Academy at Annapolis. The only down side of that location was the fact that it was a 45-minute drive from home to the airport; but one sacrifices for the good life when required. Plus, I was the assistant Chief Pilot for the flight school there, a great place to work and fly out of. And the following story took place PRIOR to 9/11, because it could not have occurred AFTER that infamous day.
As I said, it was a great day to go fly off somewhere with the gang for breakfast, and the plan was to fly across the Chesapeake Bay to Easton, MD, a trip of 34 miles. Easton Airport is the home of a great airport restaurant, and the airport manager is a long time friend and fellow FAA’er. I had coordinated with my best friend – whom I will call “Billy–Bob” to protect his innocence and reputation – to meet up at the restaurant at 0930. “Absolutely,” he replied, and said he would bring his son along (who eventually became one of my students). Billy–Bob was still based out of the famous College Park, MD airport, where the Wright Brothers had their hangar when they demonstrated their “new fangled flying machine” to the military. I was based there for a few years, tied down next to Billy-Bob’s C172, until I moved over to Freeway. But I digress. The die had been cast…
0800. My wife and I arrived at Freeway to the usual throng of Saturday morning pilots and students. Freeway Airport was not just any airport. It was a happening place, a social scene, a back country airport, complete with trees, a picnic area, a great patio deck alongside the flight school, NO fences, NO security gates, and a plethora of airplanes, all kinds and all shapes, tied out in the fields, some on paved surfaces, others in the grass. A 30-foot wide, 3000-foot long runway with NO over runs awaited the unwary pilot. The approach to runway 18 first brought you over the high tension power lines, then about 50 feet above the interstate highway and over the 8-foot chain link fence at the airport boundary between the airport and the interstate highway. Just to add to the fun, runway 18 had a significant downhill slope to it. The runway had a parallel taxiway that took you over hill and dale – airplanes disappeared from view from the deck as they descended down the 20-foot wide curved taxiway and disappeared over the very obvious hill down at the end of runway 18! Freeway was, and still is, a great feel-good, laid-back country friendly airport. But, again I digress…
0830. Time to depart. Billy-Bob advised he was running late and would not be departing College Park until 0930 and would meet us at the restaurant about 1000. No problem… My trusty Bellanca Super Viking – The Speed Monster – (YES, the same one I currently own and fly today) was all preflighted, polished up and a’rarin’ to go. It was the best of days; it was about to become almost the worst of days!
0840. Airborne and heading eastbound, over beautiful Annapolis, Maryland at 3500 feet, looking down at the U.S. Naval Academy, the spectacular view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and out across the morning sun-sparkled Chesapeake Bay on our way to Easton, Maryland and a great breakfast with friends.
0845. I turned to Kelly and said, “Kel, I think there is something wrong with the Monster.” She responded right back to me, “I don’t feel or hear anything wrong. What do you feel?” I answered, “I don’t know, but I just think the Monster is trying to tell me something.” “So,” she said, “What do you want to do?” “Well, for sure,” I said, “until I feel more confident about what is going on, I DO NOT want to start across the Chesapeake Bay, 30 miles of water.” “OK,” said my great co-pilot, “where do you want to go?” “Let’s make a 180,” I replied, “and go to Frederick and have Malcolm look at the Monster.” (Malcolm just happened to be a great friend who coincidentally owned a maintenance repair station there and who often joined us for breakfast at that airport’s restaurant.) It is about a 47-mile 20- minute trip, but totally over land. “OK,” she said, “and we can call Billy-Bob and let him know.” What a great co-pilot!! So I turned the Monster around at the shoreline and headed out to the northwest. That route took us about 6 miles north of the Freeway Airport from which we had departed and about 12 miles north of the College Park Airport where Billy-Bob would be departing shortly.
0850. Suddenly, without warning, the gauntlet was thrown down. My coolness under fire, my piloting skills and survival instincts, were being challenged. The Monster began surging like a wild animal, full power followed by no power, then surging and loss of power, growing worse each cycle. We definitely had a problem…and I was pretty sure I knew what it was. It was NOT fixable in the air and could only end up badly if the engine failed completely over the towns below me. The engine surged, the nose pitched up, the power dropped and the nose dropped, and it went on and on that way for the next several minutes. Kelly just sat there, not saying a word, trusting that I had it totally under control – GEEZ, what faith!
0855. Immediate decision made – turn left and head directly to the Freeway Airport. Radio call made on Freeway CTAF – “Freeway traffic, Freeway traffic, anybody in the pattern at Freeway?” I got an answer right away – “Cessna XXX is left downwind for 36 at Freeway.” Kelly was my co-pilot, but Fate was also riding along. I recognized the voice as the flight school’s chief pilot and a long time friend. “Harry (not his real name), Freddie here, I am 5 miles north with an engine problem, heading straight in for 18.” Harry came back immediately, “The runway is yours, I will keep everybody else out. Do you think you will need any assistance?” “Nope,” I replied, “I trust the Monster will get us there.” The monster had never let me down, and I didn’t believe she would let me down that time either.
0900. 3-mile final straight in to runway 18 at Freeway, with an erratic surging engine, threatening to quit at any moment, and Kelly was just sitting there, cool as a cucumber. Like Goldilocks, the three bears and the “just right” porridge, this approach had to be just right. Too high, and you run off the runway into the trees; too low and you have power lines 1 mile out on the final approach leg, Interstate 50 with lots of traffic maybe 100 feet from the end of the runway, and no clear area if you land short. (Think navy carrier landing with engine issues and NO go-around possible!!) The gauntlet had been thrown down and I had no choice but to play.
0902. Meanwhile, over at the College Park Airport, Billy-Bob had just gotten off the phone with Flight Service after getting an updated preflight briefing. He learned there was a NOTAM about to go into effect creating an aerobatic box over the bay that would cause him to delay his flight to breakfast. The Blue Angels were about to launch out of Andrews Air Force Base and go out over the Chesapeake Bay to practice their flight show routine for an upcoming event at the Naval Academy. The NOTAM would be in effect about the time he would get to the bay; thus he made the decision to delay his departure until the NOTAM was about to expire. He would just be late for breakfast, or early for lunch! He then attempted to call me to let me know the plan. Needless to say, I did NOT answer his call. I was a little busy at the time.
0903. The die had been cast, all the players were in place, and the day’s events were about to play out…
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONTH…