February 19, 2010 8:00 AM
“Hi, Don, this is Bob. I know it is short notice, but I was wondering if you would be able to fly with me today. I’d like to take my daughter up to South Shore, Lake Tahoe this morning for a ski event, and I’m a little concerned about the weather.”
“Let me check the weather and I’ll get back to you in a few minutes.” I replied.
I went online and saw that a front was coming in later in the day. There were clouds enroute, South Shore was reporting clear, Reno was clear and expected to remain so until later in the evening. The freezing level was reported at 8,000 feet. The airplane was a non deiced Mooney Acclaim. The trip was doable in my opinion with the big out being Reno if the Lake became socked in.
I called Bob and told him I’d meet him at the airport in an hour.
One hour and thirty minutes later we were in the air enroute to Lake Tahoe.
Bob had filed for FL230. I told him for that short flight 17,000 feet would save a lot of time. At 15,000 his daughter said she wasn’t feeling great. I checked her O2 with my pulse oximeter and she was good at 94, so I told Bob that I thought 15,000 would work just fine. I think she was a little nervous, since she hadn’t flown in their new airplane much.
Bob asked me if we could fly an approach into South Shore. I said, “Sure we could.”
He called Oakland Center and asked for the approach. They replied with, “Turn left to 320°, vectors to Squaw Valley VOR, descend and maintain 13,000. Bob started the turn and began programming in the pre-selected altitude. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to go down to 13,000, since it would put us in solid clouds that I could see from the halo ring on their surface were wet and most likely icy.
He keyed the mic and said, “We’d like to remain at 15,000 due to potential icing.” Center replied, “Maintain 15,000.”
We were cleared for the approach and went through some broken clouds. We could have canceled, but for the experience I had him do the approach. Light rime attached during our brief cloud encounter, but came off immediately when we were clear of the clouds. The landing was, as we like to say, uneventful.
We dropped his daughter off and headed back home.
We dodged some cumulus buildups and were on top by 14,000 feet. The flight was uneventful until our descent over the east bay hills. At that time we were descended into clouds at 6,000 feet. Before entering the clouds the OAT was +2°C. After our entry the OAT read 0°C. I noticed the “haze” on the leading edge of the wing that denotes the formation of ice. We asked for an immediate descent and were given a descent to 5,000 feet. The OAT went to +2°C and I was a happy camper…until the following exchange”;
“Mooney 1234 you have traffic at 2 o’clock 5 miles.”
“We’re IMC.” Bob replied.
“Mooney 1234, climb and maintain 6,000.”
As Bob was about to reply and comply, I suggested that he tell ATC, that he was “unable” due to icing at 6,000 feet.
Bob replied, “Unable due to icing at 6,000 feet.”
ATC followed with, “Maintain 5,000.”
We ran the GPS approach to the airport and landed a few minutes later. Time was about 1:30 pm.
Later that same day: 6:30 pm
A Piper Saratoga took off from another Bay Area Airport enroute to Pine Mountain Lake, an airport in the Sierra foothills at 2,930 feet surrounded by treacherous terrain. It was piloted by a good friend and former student of mine who had gotten his instrument rating from me 5 years earlier. The weather at time of departure was poor, as the front was making its way across the Bay Area. A Citation 510 flew an approach to the Pine Mountain Airport 1 hour before the arrival of my friend, missed and flew to his alternate of Modesto where he landed “uneventfully”. His comment was that it was the first time in many months where he had to “miss” the approach and land somewhere else. The ceiling at Modesto, 39 miles away, was 2,900 feet overcast. Two approaches were attempted by the Saratoga. The first one was “missed”. The second one was not.
Saturday Morning February 20, 2010 at 7:30 am.
“Hey, Don, I just wanted to call to tell you…..
I’ve had almost 3 months to reflect on that fateful day back in February. Two flights on the same day with entirely different outcomes.
Attitudes and aeronautical decision making are so important. They should be covered extensively at the conclusion of each rating prior to a signoff to take a practical test. The Wings Program makes such a course mandatory for its Basic Wings Phase. But the passage of time seems to dim the importance of our attitudes toward flying and they are often taken for granted.
Let’s review the Hazardous Attitudes of a personality that can be detrimental to the successful outcome of a flight and relate them to the above two flights
The FIRST Hazardous Attitude would be: ANTI-AUTHORITY. An individual with this attitude would not like to have ANYONE tell them what to do. Rules are made for the “OTHER” person. They would not consider calling a more experienced pilot to ask for assistance in planning a possibly questionable flight. In the above examples, the first pilot, feeling uncomfortable about making the flight alone called for assistance. This lead to several learning experiences throughout the flight. The second pilot chose to ignore the rules, dipped below minimums and sealed his fate.
The SECOND Hazardous Attitude would be: IMPULSIVITY. This attitude leads one to act immediately without thought as to the consequences of a not well thought out decision. They figure that to do something, anything fast, is better than doing nothing. This attitude often does not lead to accomplishing the best alternative. While it’s hard to categorized following an ATC instruction as impulsive, a pilot should have the ability to view their flight from the bigger picture of “the outside looking in” and through thoughtfulness. This prevented two possible icing situations in the first example.
The THIRD Hazardous Attitude would be: INVULNERABILITY. This attitude leads one to think that an accident can never happen to them. It’s always “the other guy”. This attitude can lead to excessive risk taking. Bob did not feel invulnerable. He wanted help with his flight. Our second pilot, figuring he had made the flight successfully many times before chose to ignore a combination of tell tale signs of problems like weather, night, mountainous terrain, and made his last flight in spite of its possible poor outcome because “It can’t happen to me.”
The FOURTH Hazardous Attitude would be: MACHO. It’s this “can do” attitude that in the interest of proving to themselves that they can do it or “showing off” to someone else leads to excessive risk taking. After a failed first attempt at the instrument approach in poor weather conditions, a second was tried. The weather at Modesto with 2,900 feet overcast. This was the airport altitude at Pine Mountain Lake 39 miles away. The approach could not be done successfully that evening.
The FIFTH Hazardous Attitude would be: RESIGNATION. This “cannot do” attitude can lead a pilot to think that there is nothing that can be done to improve a given situation. While this attitude did not purvey the above examples, I have seen numerous examples of it. A number of times during training in large crosswinds, I have had students just “give up” at the last minute and say, “You’ve got the airplane, I can’t do it.”; or during instrument training, “I have no idea where we are.”; or during an instrument approach, “I have no idea where we are.
I have not gotten over the death of my good friend in February. Like, Bob, I wish he had called me before the flight that evening. He did call me last Thanksgiving to review a possible flight to Oregon. We agreed it could not be made safely and he did not go. That February evening, a trip to a mountainous airport, at night, in instrument conditions, over rough terrain; that’s not a flight I would ever recommend making even in VFR conditions.
There have been other times I have been enroute with students who have just purchased airplanes and I am helping them get back home when weather rose its ugly head. The people have oftentimes just wanted to keep going. The instant I made the decision to stop and stay over night at some out of the way spot (always an adventure), an indescribable peace has come over me, that I always remember the next time such a circumstance occurs.
Most accidents occur as a result of pilot and aeronautical decision making errors. On the ground and in the air continually review the 5 Hazardous Attitudes with yourself. Stand outside of yourself, look in on yourself and always ask yourself the question, “Is this a prudent thing to do?”