The Polish air disaster: Why are most fog-related accidents fatal?

Given the recent Polish air disaster (Polish air disaster: Pilot ignored fog alert) where it is already being reported that the plane’s pilot ignored repeated warnings not to land at a fogged-in Russian airstrip, a recent short post by Alton K. Marsh on the AOPA Pilot Blog’s Reporting Points about fog related accidents is worth noting and repeating. In the post, Alton mentioned that the AOPA Air Safety Foundation (ASF) has discovered that roughly three-fourths of the time, aircraft accidents in fog are fatal. However, it was also noted that there is no clear-cut fog category in the accident statistics that were studied (hence, the term should include “obscuration” and “below minimums”). Nevertheless, the study found that:

Those on no flight plan who had an accident that included the above weather conditions between 1998 and 2007 led the fatal category with 203 fatalities. But those on IFR flight plans came in second with 106. Those on VFR flight plans were much lower, with only 49 fatalities over the nine-year period. Part 91 operations in fog, obscuration, and below minimums conditions led the statistics with 340 fatalities. In second place were charter operators with only 38 fatalities.

The AOPA ASF researcher who conducted the study concluded by saying that:

“The relatively low number of fog accidents [for aircraft] on VFR flight plans–and the high number on flights that didn’t file any–probably says something about the risk attitudes and flight practices of the pilots involved. IFR pilots are expecting low visibility, so reports of fog won’t necessarily deter them from trying the approach, but it [fog] will make things get bad in a hurry if [the pilot] gets off course or goes below minimums.”

In other words, it is the attitude of the pilot and not the the fog itself that is the real cause of the accident – as the recent Polish air disaster seems to indicate as well.



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