Got to know a nice guy on a soaring holiday in Southern France. I was unhappy with my previous job at the time and over a couple of wines he mentioned one should do something for a living that you really liked instead of being unhappy for fourty years. The next day he crashed running the ridge a little too closely, making contact with one wing. I took a day off from flying, hiked in the mountains instead and decided the guy was right. Went back home, applied as an ATCO, quit my previous job and got rewarded with a great carreer and a fun occupation. I´ve not forgotten that guy, he´s changed a life.
Met a guy who had a mid-air in France. He bailed out and lived. The other one bailed out and died since he was over slightly higher terrain. I thought these things might happen but were unlikely. Then I had a near miss myself in the French Alps. Despite a vigilant scanning and the FLARM beeping somebody managed to flash past me (opposite direction) between me and the ridge. I went straight back to the airfield, unrigged the glider and have never been back since, twelve years ago. The rewards of flying in the mountains (at least in spring) don`t warrant the risks for me.
Lost a colleague in a freak accident a couple of years ago. Two planes within 50 NM or so, and they hit at exactly 3500ft on a nearly perpendicular course. I´ve happily been cruising at random altitudes like 4350 ever since. This accident has been in the back of my mind many, many times and I get reminded of it frequently. My conclusion: You can be the nicest, brightest, most professional, experienced and skilled pilot, but fate can still kill you. Accept it, but try to keep the odds at an acceptable level.
I wonder why we are all so blasé about the risks of flying a GA plane when so many ordinary and not ordinary GA pilots die.
My own view is because it seems so safe when one is flying in a closed cockpit, sitting in comfortable seats with noise-cancelling headsets on, unaware and therefore cocooned away from the sense of the real speed, happily enjoying the view, chatting to the controller on the radio or to the passengers. It doesn’t seem like one is risking one’s life at all. In the cruise it’s rather like sitting in comfortable saloon car listening to the radio. Some pilots actually listen to music whilst they fly. I think this cocooning is a big part of the problem in terms of unperceived dangers and it leads to pilot over-confidence generally and to massive under-observation in terms of collision risk in particular. The relatively rare occurrence of mid-air collisions is a further contributing factor of this common and careless approach of course, and I include myself in that.
The comparison has been made with the risks of motorcycling. I have been a keen biker for more than 30 years, like others here I’m sure. I have been knocked over by two cars in that time, both at very low speed in heavy slow moving traffic : bumps not crashes if you will, but one resulted in a broken arm because my bike fell on me (it weighed more than 250kg). I have never had a high speed crash but I have had one or two scares with unobservant (cocooned) car drivers. Like most long-term bikers, when I am riding my bike I sense the danger all the time: the speed of the bike is constantly present in my consciousness because I feel it absolutely all the time (no cocooning at all), there is engine and air noise and traffic noise too. Unlike the risks of a mid-air crash in a plane, collision risks for bikes are constantly present – cars, mad bikers, street furniture, so it’s always being thought about. Other dangers are frequent too – rain on the road, diesel spills, even stinging insects getting caught in one’s clothing. (A recent incident with a bee was unpleasant). So with biking one is constantly acutely aware of the risks and one settles into an observant careful enjoyment of the ride. A flow experience ( Flow experience- explanation) ). In my opinion this experience of “flow” is one of or perhaps the main reason why biking is so enjoyable.
I don’t know what can be done about the general cocooning in a GA plane. I particularly worry about the airspace in which I often fly: Beneath the London TMA where the lower limit of controlled airspace is only 2,500 ft, and where there are more than a handful of aerodromes so plenty of traffic all of which flies at altitudes of between 2,000ft and 2,300ft most of the time…and people don’t look out enough and that’s crazy. I have had one airprox that I know about and have had many times when I have been closer than I would like to other planes where we have both seen each other in good time and have watched our separation, but had we not done so it could have become uncomfortably close. I’d like to make ADBS-out compulsory in such airspace but I fear that such regulation will only come into effect if we first have a spate of mid-air collisions.
Bringing this back on topic, I haven’t lost any friends to airplane accidents, but I have had a scary airprox and also seen and read about many plane crashes at places to which I have flown and in planes similar to the one I fly…
Only commercial flying is. Recreational flying is absolutely not.
Forgive me for not making myself more clear on this.
In the context of accident statistics I fully agree with you, the end result is appalling for recreational flying as opposed to commercial aviaton. However, that is not the point I was trying to make.
I am not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I have been very keen on accident analysis and reporting for a very long time, also having been involved with the group of people who started the Aviation Herald amongst other stuff. And it never ceases to amaze me that even with todays rather high level technology in aviation, we still get totally preventable accidents due to human performance. And that, I am afraid to say, is very present in all of aviation. In fact, some of the more balant blunders in recent years were in commercial aviation.
I’ve mentioned SR111. I knew the captain, I knew 3 cabin crew members on that flight. The shock still sits very deep. I remember discussing this accident with some people very shortly after it happened and we were all stunned to the tell me not that this could have happened to Swissair of all people. They had lost a Coronado to fire caused by a bomb, but that airplane was perfectly flyable until smoke overcame the crew. They almost lost an MD80 near Munich because of an electrical fire. Both cockpit crew were high level instructors. They had smoke of unknown origin caused by a fire behind the cockpit bulkhead, yet they thought they had time to delay the landing to clean up the cabin. They got a false sense of what really was going on behind them due to a technical oddity and thought they had time to do the checklists rather then getting that airplane on the ground RIGHT NOW. As it came out, it was a checklist item which ultimately killed them, turning off the cabin bus also shut down the recirculation fans which had kept the fire and smoke out of the cockpit. Once they were off, the whole cockpit was dead within minutes and they shortly afterwards…
We all thought that with the history of SR330 and the Munich event, nobody in Swissair would ever fall into the trap of succumbing to a in flight fire while in the proximity of an airport. Well, it did happen again. And it was not the last time either. UPS6 was lost when they tried to fly back to Dubai rather than getting their ride down at Bahrein which was much closer. Incidently, Fedex managed to land a DC10 on fire shortly before SR111 happened by dumping all checklists, that crew was massively criticized at first, but the NTSB got second thoughts after SR111. Yet, have we really learned from it? If so, then why does it happen again?
Incidently, one of the people I discussed that accident with a few days after it happened and without the hindsight of the technical issues which came out only years later, was the very gentleman who ended up in a Basel rooftop after trying to fly an overloaded homebuilt to Oskosh. A very highly qualified and very competent pilot, former Swissair captain with several FAI records in light planes under his belt, yet he ended up with a totally unnecessary and crazy accident.
Looking at other prominent accidents in recent times, Asiana comes to mind when a highly qualified crew flies a perfectly working airliner into a crash. Or Air France with their numerous blunders, loosing two Concordes, loosing an A340 to an overrun, flying one of the first A320’s into a forrest e.t.c. The list of human blunders goes on and on.
In GA, we see the same tendency. The airplanes per se are rather safe. There is hardly any accident where we have to say that a technical issue made the final outcome inevitable, yet human performance mucks things up almost every time.
The airplanes are safe enough. It’s the people who drive them who make me concerned. Not one of those friends I lost needed to have died, all did due to bad decisions.
Sorry Peter. It hits close to home sometimes.
I don’t know anyone who’s died in a plane. Some time ago, I calculated my personal chance of having an accident resulting in fatal injury or death at 5% over the following 20 years (2000 hours of flying). I decided it’s worth it to me. Whether I’m understating or overstating the risks is a separate question. I made the assumption that my flying skills are less than average.
There are health benefits to me from flying. It makes me happy. Excessive risk aversion can lead to depression, obesity and being a boring person (my unproven theory). I’ll take the risk because I believe I would die sooner of other causes if it weren’t able to express myself in this way. Stopping deaths in GA would be easy—just ban it! Eliminate all risk everywhere and you’ll get a mumbling, frightened bunch of wimps scared of life, unhappy in love, and dying earlier on average than they would have had they taken the risk of dying by living.
11 plus :-(
5% over the following 20 years
That’s pretty bad. a 1/670 chance of fatal accident per hour? What are you doing? Aerobatics in IMC in mountains?
2 during different aerobatic shows – exact causes not determined
1 had a heart attack during aerobatic show
1 vacuum pump failure during actual night IMC after go around
1 military C130 pilot with an ultralight – cause still TBD
1 hit a sand bank during a water scoop with a Canadair CL415
Plus other 3 Pilot friends, 2 in car accidents and 1 had a heart attack a week after his medical, the day before his wedding
Plus a few instructors from old age.
Professionals, airline, military, GA, no specific pattern.
Shit happens, fly to the best of your capacity, follow the rules, and enjoy. Life is short anyway.