So I’m sitting in the plane for an early morning lesson when my student gives me the required passenger briefing. Headset use… fire extinguisher… in case of a water landing “take the life vests, open the plastic bag and place it over your head.”
I’m not sure a plastic bag on my head will be all that helpful, but I’m willing to try anything I guess!
In July 1997, what started out as a simple maintenance issue blossomed into a fiery crash. A pilot flying, a Cessna 310 the day before, noticed a problem with the radar and smelled something burning. He pulled the radar circuit breaker and landed normally. The next day a low time commercial pilot with a very experienced ATP took the plane flying in VFR weather thinking they wouldn’t need radar anyway. Shortly after takeoff they reported smoke in the cockpit and declared an emergency. Attempting to reach a nearby airport they slammed into a residential area killing themselves, a young mother and two children. This fiery wreck was a result of poor training, missing safety equipment, and GTI.
The training problems involved were old information, rote memorization and, a lack of emergency training. Have you ever heard the old saying, “If a circuit breaker pops in flight, wait _______ seconds and then reset?” A circuit breaker pops because the wire is over heating and trying to prevent a fire. They should NEVER be reset in flight. If you smell something burning you should not try to troubleshoot or isolate the problem. Unfortunately, rote memorization of a checklist will lead you to this bad idea. If one wire is overheating, and melting, it is damaging other wires around it and can lead to an electrical fire even if you pull the one circuit breaker. You must shut off the master switch at the sign of electrical fire. Talking about electrical fire emergencies is not the same as live practice with smoke in the cockpit. Book learning is important but, unless you try these live saving skills in a real airplane in flight it’s just not the same. What if we talked about stall recovery but had students practice it?
Most GA airplanes are missing some essential safety equipment. The FAA recommends all airplanes be equipped with HALON fire extinguishers. Halon extinguishers interfere with the fire chemically and are much less toxic and blinding than the ABC or Car Type fire extinguishers. Flotation devices for each passenger and a handheld radio are cheap insurance against other types of problems.
The biggest cause of this accident and of most GA accidents is GTI. Get-There-Itis is that urge to fly and keep flying because, “you have to get there.” Pilots who keep flying lower and lower into bad weather are really no different than the two pilots of the 310. The plane had a radar problem, but we aren’t going to use the radar anyway and it’s only a 30 minute flight, and the weather is perfect, and, and, and….
This accident is typical of many GA accidents every year. Updated information with an understanding of the systems through simulator and in-flight emergency practice will help. Having appropriate safety equipment in every plane should be part of the preflight checklist. The most important thing is of course the go-no go decision. The next time you are asking yourself “what if I don’t get there on time?” Stop and ask yourself this instead. “Who will miss me if I don’t come home?”
Fly safe and let’s show the world how safe and amazing GA flying really is!