SMALL AIRCRAFT CRASHES –
MORE COMMON THAN YOU MAY THINK!
- One person was killed when his small plane crashed into a Lubbock, Texas television tower – Feb 5, 2015
- Two men died in a private plane accident near Quinlan, Texas – July 1, 2015
- Two men died in Brazoria County, Texas when their single-engine plane crashed in the San Bernard Refuge area – July 14, 2015
Seems that Texas is getting its fair share of small plane accidents, doesn’t it? While flying is still a remarkably safe mode of transportation, smaller craft do experience a far, far greater number of accidents than commercial flights.
There are some very logical reasons for this.
By far, the most common cause of small aircraft accidents happens due to pilot error. Many small plane operators are “hobbyist” fliers. They don’t fly for a living and, therefore, don’t rack up a substantial flight time. Any misjudgment can result in tragedy. When we add in the factors below, the odds of a plane crash can and do significantly increase.
BAD WEATHER + PILOT ERROR = DISASTER
Unlike jet airliners, smaller aircraft are affected more severely when flying into bad weather. A storm that would cause some mild turbulence for a 747 would w on a single engine Cessna. In fact, 12% of all small plane crashes are due solely to bad weather.
When a hobbyist pilot meets a severe storm, the storm can come out the winner. Think of what happened to John Kennedy Jr. on July 16, 1999. Not having substantial flying time experience, John Kennedy never-the-less took off in his private plane despite poor weather warnings. Poor weather turned into lousy weather and when evening fell, the die was cast. John, not very experienced with flying by instrument, fell into what aviator’s call “Black Hole Vertigo.”
Spatial coordination is lost, up appears down, the sky and the ground meld into one – and flying becomes a Bizarro world of terror. The pilot over-compensates his maneuvers, and panic sets in. Not trusting the instruments over their eyes, the result is a death spiral into the ground or sea.
Mr. Kennedy, his wife Carolyn Bessette and her sister Lauren were killed instantly as their small craft slammed into the ocean.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
This parallels closely with pilot error – fuel starvation or flying with insufficient gas reserves. In a car when we run out of gas, we can always sputter to the side of the road. In an aircraft, the side of the road may be a mile or more below. The laws of gravity are rather unforgiving in these situations.
In fact, this is what happened to singer John Denver. Practicing takeoffs and landings, he failed to realize one of the gas tanks on his plane was running low. When that tank ran dry, a combination of factors sealed his fate.
His aircraft was modified so that the gas tank valves were behind his left shoulder. Not only that but switching the valve between tanks was counter-intuitive. Turning it right got to the left tank, and turning left switched to the right one.
When the tank ran dry, John Denver simply did not have enough time to unbuckle himself, reach back and turn the gas valve in the proper direction. He died upon impact.
FACT: How prevalent is running out of gas? According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, small planes crash almost twice a week simply because they run out of fuel.
When a flying plane hits a stationary object, it’s usually end game. The aircraft can be traveling at well over 100 mph. Any impact can tear a small aircraft to pieces. This is what happened to the victim in the Lubbock, Texas television tower accident on Feb 5, 2015. The pilot didn’t stand a chance.
It’s also what happened to singer Jim Croce. When he took off on Sept. 20, 1973 in Natchitoches, La. going to Sherman, Texas his plane never made it much past the runway. Although the weather was good, the pilot (not Jim Croce) failed to clear a pecan tree. The Beechcraft crashed, killing all six people aboard.
Poor weather also accounts for many of these types of stationary object crashes. Heavy rain, lightning, fog, poor light – any number of atmospheric conditions can virtually blind a pilot, causing them to run head-on into buildings, structures, trees or mountain sides.
According to the FAA, from 1990 to 2012, 60 civilian aircraft were severely damaged (many beyond repair) by wildlife accidents. The unfortunate animals included Canadian geese, vultures, and white-tailed deer. One positive point – almost all of these accidents were non-fatal – at least to the human’s flying the aircraft. The wildlife usually fared much worse.
POOR AIRCRAFT DESIGN
A poorly designed auto interior can be a nuisance. When the cab of a small aircraft isn’t optimally designed, the pilot may not have the experience or skill to compensate for any flying errors. Again, John Denver was a prime example of poor design meeting an amateur aviator.
Sometimes you cannot escape fate. If a small plane crashes into a building, the unwary home or business occupants usually never knew what hit them.
The place Gaithersburg, Maryland. The date August 23, 2014. When the six passenger private aircraft piloted by proficient aviator and bio-tech executive Michael J. Rosenberg experienced problems, his aircraft lost control, crashed into a private home… and exploded into a fireball. The pilot and his two passengers died.
Inside that home, a mother and her two young children also died in the ensuing inferno. They never stood a chance.
Although life is never certain, sometimes human error tips the scales in favor of the Grim Reaper. If you are a hobbyist pilot, these are the three things you must never forget:
- Never overestimate your flying skills, and never underestimate mother nature.
- Never fly in bad weather. If bad weather approaches, either fly around it or land.
- Always make sure you have more than enough gas. There are no filling stations 5,000 feet up.
TERRY BRYANT LAW FIRM
Terry Bryant Law Firm in Houston has been helping Texas residents for 30 years with their accident-related legal problems and concerns. If you or a family member have been injured in a small aircraft accident, it is important to consult with an experienced trail lawyer to get the assistance and legal guidence to which you are entitled.