Tuesday, October 07, 2014


My eye just fell on a story from a month ago, of a Cirrus that flew into restricted airspace over Washington, DC. Intercepting jets noted that the pilot appeared unconscious, and followed the airplane until it crashed into the sea, I'm presuming because it ran out of fuel. Here's a flight log from FlightAware. The incident itself is not astonishing. The pilot was sixty-seven years old, and while I hope I'm still doing many things safely and well at that age, he wouldn't be the first sixty-seven year old to die suddenly and unexpectedly while in control of a vehicle. The thing that elevates the story to the "I have to blog this" level, was the comments I saw on articles about it.

They aren't vituperative rants blaming the government or the other party (or maybe I haven't read that far yet). They are well-meaning people who have read a news article, digested the information and formed opinions on the material, opinions that they are proud enough of to share. (Okay, that's a low bar: I write this blog, for example). I'm fascinated by the ideas some have, the way they see my world.

The article describes the Cirrus as having an emergency parachute. This is true. It's a safety feature. The Cirrus was designed to attract non-pilots into flying, and one thing many non-pilots wanted was a parachute. A number of pilots have deployed the Cirrus parachute and survived situations they did not believe they would have otherwise. And then you get the comment: Something tells me that a plane built with a parachute for engine failures is not a safe plane to fly. Does this person also believe that cars without seatbelts and roads without guardrails are safer? I've seen this before in comments from non-pilots: adding a layer of safety, be it a procedure, an attitude, or a piece of equipment, is perceived as reducing the safety of the operation. It's as if they assume that any aviation operation has a constant level of safety, so any added safety feature causes it to be lacking in another area.

Another reader asserts, This is a good reason why recreational pilots should be required to have co-pilots. While I don't deny that a second pilot in the cockpit represents a huge safety benefit, requiring recreational pilots to fly with a copilot would pretty much destroy recreational aviation. Most recreational airplanes don't have a lot of useful load, so a pilot would have to leave behind a member of her family or most of the fuel in order to take on a another pilot. Recreational pilots can't be paid for their services, so the pilots would have to negotiate where they were going to go and when, I suppose on the basis of "I'll sit with you when you fly to Montreal, if you'll sit with me while I fly to Halifax." Imagine if you were required to have another qualified driver beside you during every car trip you took. While it must have happened, I cannot think of an accident where a person on the ground was hurt because a private pilot was incapacitated. It's not a sufficient problem to require a legislated solution.

This next one fascinates me because it appears to use the term "nanny state" in a non-pejoritive fashion. Or is my sarcasm detector broken? Google is working on a driver free car, next is the pilot free airplane. I'm not going to see a lot of these advancements, but I sure hope my grandkids don't feel the need to rebel against this cradle to grave nanny state. there are enough mindless thrill seekers out there to fill the emergency rooms right now.

This thread is from an aviation site, so most of the farfetched ideas are corrected and explained by other commenters.

This one is from an American public radio station known to be left leading. Its commenters see a coverup for the plane being shot down, or ISIS action. It makes less sense for ISIS to take down a private pilot on his way from Waukesha, Wisconsin to Manassas, Virginia than it would for them to ambush a suburban soccer mom on the way to the grocery store.

This is from an eyewitness in a boat, quoted in this article. “You could tell the jets were extremely well-equipped and in control of the situation. We obviously paid close attention, but at no time did we think we were in danger. I think the jets could have controlled where and when it went down.” While they could have done that with armaments, the way the Cirrus is described descending into the sea is consistent with running out of fuel and not with being blown out of the sky.

And finally, not to forget that the pilot was a person, I found this blog that compiles the NTSB report, a few news stories, and numerous obituaries. It would appear that Cirrus pilot Ronald Hutchinson was an experienced pilot and well-regarded community member. My condolences to his family and friends.

1 comment:

majroj said...

Commentors-to-blogs referencing news articles are often half-informed about the cases and riding the sensational headlines wave a little. I've been guilty a couple times. Or more.

Our local fixed-wing traffic reporter, about a year after he has his engine seize during a broadcast (he landed ok, a maintenance error), went on to have a heart attack on the air, once again landing safely and surviving to go and (plus mandatory co-pilot) continue to do the traffic and impormptu weather for almost a decade longer.
His weather reports ticked off the sister TV station's weather readerm so she almost quit (tried an ultimatum).

This was the pilot/reporter's third career! He was eventually grounded (at age 75) by the station in favor of reports based upon sensors and cameras, which he reported from his home.