Lessons from holiday general aviation accidents

The holidays are over with but John Zimmerman with the Air Facts Journal has noted three tragic general aviation accidents that received wider attention than normal because they involved pilots flying to visit family during the holidays. These holiday flying accidents included:

  • A Piper Cherokee 6 crashed in Texas claiming the lives of the pilot, his wife, his two kids and his brother. The family was on the way to Waco to visit family but there were reports of thunderstorms in the area plus it was at night time.
  • A TBM 700 turboprop crashed in New Jersey claiming the lives of the pilot, his wife, his two kids, a co-worker and the family’s dog. The aircraft was headed to Atlanta for Christmas but there were numerous pilot reports of moderate and to severe icing around the crash area. 
  • A Cessna 441 Conquest crashed in York (Pennsylvania) just a mile from the airport, killing the pilot, who was also the aircraft’s sole occupant. The flight originated in Los Angeles and the pilot was going to visit family in the area. However, there were some reports of engine failure that was possibly caused by fuel exhaustion.

John pointed out that ice, thunderstorms and fuel exhaustion are (unfortunately) all too common common accident causes in NTSB reports. However, he also wrote that one contributing factor to these holiday accidents was no doubt pressure to complete a holiday trip. After all, each of these pilots was flying on trip to see family for the holidays.

Moreover, John noted that all the pilots involved were experienced instrument pilots while the weather conditions were just good enough to encourage making the flight but also just bad enough to make a flight dangerous. And while a family or holiday trip should not impact a pilot’s personal minimums, John wrote that in practice:

…this is an extremely difficult emotion to manage. We are all salesmen to a certain extent when we fly with family. We want to prove that all the money and time we spend on airplanes is worth it, and brings value to the entire family. We also want to prove that we are good pilots.

Hence, pilots can be overwhelmed by feelings of failure in these marginal situations if they cancel.

John concluded that his New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to take a long hard look at all the weather and other conditions the next time he feels he must complete a flight. Moreover and if its a stretch, he resolves to sit in the FBO and to just have another cup of coffee.

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