November 29th 1975 was a very sad day for general aviation and also motorsport. Two completely avoidable accidents claimed the lives of 10 people including that of former World Champion Formula 1 driver, Graham Hill and the Chief Flying Instructor of the Warwickshire Aero Club, Arthur Penzer. Graham Hill’s wife was left penniless as a result of this accident and had to sell the family home.
The accidents which occurred at night at Elstree and Birmingham were both in radiation fog and were within 30 minutes of each other and had common themes:
1. Both pilots were flying illegally
2. Both pilots attempted approaches in weather below public transport minima(although they were not bound by this as they were private flights)
3. Forecast radiation fog covered the Midlands and south east England. Suitable alternative airfields were available and had been considered but not actioned
4. Both pilots put ‘getting in’ ahead of operational safety and used phrases such as “ we will have a look” or “we will have a go”
5. Both pilots acted irresponsibly before the flight and during the flight and were ultimately responsible for the deaths of all of their passengers
6. Both accidents were non survivable and the aircraft were destroyed by impact and fire on golf courses
The two AAIB reports are below.
Approach obstacles below optimum glide path
Incomplete pre flight planning
Night approach in poor visibility (increased threat of visual illusions)
Difficulty of positive identification of ground lights at night
Single pilot IFR high workload
Loss of situational awareness
Loss of accuracy below published minima
Altimeter subscale error
Get in ‘itus’
GH- Attempting to set the altimeter during the approach
GH- Rushed approach
Lack of planned procedure and defined limits
Failure to initiate a go around before a sensible decision height
GH -Altimeter setting?
GH-A/C paperwork illegal
GH-Unsure of position at night?
Failure to use the diversion airfield when the destination was below minima
EP-Multiple approach attempts causing increased stress.
EP Flying with a handling pilot who was banned from flying and was medically unfit
Most accidents are caused as a result of an error chain, in my opinion the error chain can start with your personal attitude when you commence pre flight planning. Pilot’s such as the two mentioned above usually have a history of not operating in a manner which could be described as ‘best practice’. As a result of poor instruction many pilots are not aware of what best practice is and ignorance can have dire consequences. Reading accidents reports can make you more aware of the consequences of poor practice.
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Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.