In September 1983 two dear friends and colleagues of mine died flying an IMC enroute descent with two passengers during a flight to Kilkenny in Ireland, it was such a waste of two young lives and so easily preventable.
Sadly this type of accident still occurs time and time again today, in fact Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) continues to be one of the most common causes of fatal aircraft accidents to both GA and public transport aircraft.
I first posted about Steve & Nicks accident a few years ago, the link is here
The understanding and adherence to strict enroute safety altitude discipline is the most important part of an instrument pilots situational awareness and it always amazes me how little attention even some experienced pilots and in particular instructors, pay to this vital discipline
If you are IMC and that includes poor visibility and forget all these ridiculous rules that no one can remember, you can either see clearly to manoeuvre in safety or you can’t, you MUST know exactly where you are and exactly what the safe altitude is at all times.
I once asked 3 different completed IMC rating students at a local flying school what is the first thing you must check before descent in IMC, not one of them knew! A disgraceful example of poor instruction and examination.
If you look at a check list for any UK airline you will notice that in the TOP OF DESCENT checklist it always contains a reference to a safety altitude check. The main reason is you will not get CAA approval for a checklist that doesn’t contain such an item because it is VITAL to safe operation. Instructors spend hours trying to get students to fly on instruments to plus or minus 100 feet which is all very well and good but even if you are the most accurate pilot in the world and can fly an NDB let down while singing The Rock of Ages it won’t help you if you fly into cloud at 1700 feet with a 1800 feet hill in front of you.
That’s more or less what Neil Williams, one the world’s greatest aerobatic pilots, did on 11 December 1977, when the CASA 2.111 he was ferrying from Cuatro Vientos Airport to the United Kingdom crashed in poor visibility into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains north of Madrid. He was killed, along with his wife and two passengers.
It’s also what my friend Vic Wilson did on the 8th June 1979. I had a lively discussion in the bar at Shobdon one evening about flying in IMC, telling Vic he needed to get some training and stop flying illegally in IMC. Vic was boasting to everyone that he had never had a days IF training in his life and didn’t need any. I clearly remember him saying he was happy sitting in cloud all day at 3000 feet and that it wasn’t a problem so why would he need to get an instrument qualification . After leaving the bar I put my ear to the door and heard him say, “These young flying instructors, you can’t tell them anything”! 3 years later Vic flew into the side of the Snowdon range at 3000 feet killing himself and 5 passengers.
The accident is detailed in this link
29 years later a Cessna 152, G-BHAC from Shobdon flew into the same range killing the passenger and seriously injuring the pilot. MISSION FIXATION suckered the pilot to prioritise getting back to Shobdon above the safety of the aircraft and his passenger:
The AIIB report states:
The pilot and his passenger flew from Shobdon to Caernarfon Airfield and planned to return late in the afternoon. On their first attempt to return, they chose a direct route back but encountered poor weather and returned to Caernarfon Airfield. After refuelling, they took off and embarked on an alternative return route via Colwyn Bay and the north Welsh coast. Eleven minutes after departing Caernarfon Airfield they struck a mountainside at 1,970 ft amsl, fatally injuring the passenger and seriously injuring the pilot.
The pilot had the correct safe altitude written on his nav log but chose to fly well below it towards high ground at an altitude lower than the high ground which was covered in cloud, sheer madness!
Cessna A152, G-BHAC 03-07.pdf (564.92 kb)
MISSION FIXATION has caused many accidents in flying. The Tenerife Disaster was a result of mission fixation, and the above accident was a result of mission fixation, the need to get back to base was put above all else including safety. Sometimes you just need to say NO, lets nightstop and look for better weather tomorrow.
I could go on and on, so take these points:
THREAT & ERROR MANAGEMENT
THE THREAT IS HIGH GROUND, THE ERROR IS FLYING INTO IT
SAFETY ALTITUDE, MAKE IT PART OF YOUR FLIGHT PLANNING
SAFETY ALTITUDE, MAKE IT AN ACTIVE PART OF YOUR FLIGHT PROFILE FOR CLIMB AND DESCENT
NEVER DESCEND IN IMC WITHOUT KNOWING YOUR EXACT POSITION AND SAFE ALTITUDE
IF YOU HAVE NO INSTRUMENT QUALIFICATION TURN BACK BEFORE YOU FLY INTO CLOUD UNLESS YOU CAN GUARANTEE TO OUT CLIMB THE HIGH GROUND AHEAD TO REACH SAFE ALTITUDE. (good luck)
THE LATER YOU LEAVE THE TURN BACK DECISION THE HARDER AND MORE DANGEROUS IT BECOMES
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FLY IN WEATHER CONDITIONS OUTSIDE YOUR EXPERIENCE, ABILITY & RATING
NEVER LET MISSION FIXATION (‘GET HOME ITUS’) AFFECT YOUR JUDGEMENT
UNDERSTAND HOW WEATHER CAN CHANGE AROUND HIGH GROUND AND COASTAL REGIONS VERY QUICKLY
IF YOU ENTER CLOUD, THINK SAFETY ALTITUDE AND ICING-CONSIDER THE TURNBACK MANOEUVRE
ALSO CONSIDER DRIFTDOWN, IF YOU GET A ENGINE FAILURE OR POWER LOSS WILL YOU BE ABLE TO GLIDE CLEAR OF THE HIGH GROUND?
TAKE NO NOTICE OF THE CLUB EXPERTS WHO CAN FLY IN ANY WEATHER UNLESS YOU WANT TO END UP LIKE VIC!
A CLOUD WITH A HARD CENTRE CAN BE VERY UNFORGIVING, EVEN FOR A SECOND!
ON THE 18TH JANUARY 2012 TWO VERY EXPERIENCED PILOTS WITH A TOTAL OF MORE THAN 28,000 HOURS BETWEEN THEM FLEW INTO CLOUD FOR JUST A SECOND AT AN AIRFIELD THEY KNEW INTIMATELY WELL-IT COST THEM THEIR LIVES
BREAK THE RULES AND THE AIRCRAFT MAY WELL BREAK YOU
“Fly like your life depends on it.”