The current issue of AOPA Pilot (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) provides an interpretation of the NTSB’s (National Transportation and Safety Board) final report on the accident that claimed Yankee baseball player Thurman Munson’s life 20 years ago. Bruce Landsberg is the author of the article. He is a highly respected pilot, author, and is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
I spend time every month reading about airplane accidents. It probably sounds morbid, but most of the pilots I know do the same thing. We want to know precisely what brought down another plane so we don’t make the same mistakes. In fact, a large percentage of private plane accidents is the result of pilot error, including running out of fuel, flying into bad weather, inability to effectively handle an emergency, and just plain bad judgment.
Every once in a while, I fly into Mt. Snow airport in West Dover, Vermont. It’s a dangerous airport on a windy day. I knew a very experienced pilot who was killed attempting to land there a few years ago. Of course I read the NTSB report on that accident as well. Last Friday my wife and I flew up there. The wind was calm. No problem. If there was significant wind I wouldn’t have even tried to land. I’d just divert to an alternate airport 20 miles away.
Yankee Cory Lidle crashed his new single-engine Cirrus in New York City in October 2006. He and his instructor-passenger were blown off course. The NTSB’s conclusion? It was cold and detached: “The pilots’ inadequate planning, judgment, and airmanship in the performance of a 180º turn maneuver inside of a limited turning space.” I’ve flown my plane down the Hudson River Corridor at an altitude of 900 feet before and after Lidle’s accident. Although I don’t venture up the East River where the accident occurred, I am very, very careful when I make my U-turn around the Statue of Liberty—low altitude (500 feet by that point), lots of other planes and helicopters, and wind which will push you precisely where you don’t want to go.
What can we learn from all this? A few things. For me it’s:
- Don’t skimp on training. We should always be training, in one way or another. At least one NTSB examiner felt Munson might have needed more training.
- Stick with the process. In flying, there is a procedure for just about everything. Pilots who follow the procedures live longer.
- Examine the mistakes and miscalculations that others before us have made. Examine our own mistakes as well. That’s why win/loss reviews can be so powerful. Fortunately when we lose a deal it’s not serious enough to require the NTSB.
- When we get that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs, we must ask ourselves, “Am I in over my head?” If we are, confess! To ourselves, to our bosses, to our teammates, or in my case, to Air Traffic Control.