Thursday, July 01, 2010

Montana Plane Crash

I was saddened by news that the Piper Cherokee Arrow crashed after being observed at altitudes below 500 feet. I have many hours in a Cherokee Arrow 200, which I assume is the accurate description of the plane. I once rented such a plane at the Kalispell airport to fly some friends to Westport for a fishing expedition. It was in 1971 or 2 and could well have been that same plane.

I have two important points to make that non-flying reporters might have missed. One, there isn't much more dangerous than a pilot with one year's experience. At that point, they and I back when, think they have all of the knowledge and experience to navigate anywhere. Unfortunately, many flight instructors nowadays don't have much more maturity than their students. I was fortunate, since my instruction occurred in the late 50's. My primary instructor flew the hump between India and China during WW11.

That brings me to the second point. Well actually a second and third point. One, you never fly low and slow in mountainous terrain. The up and down drafts can kill even experienced pilots. I won't get you involved in the variables. Those of you that are pilots know exactly what I'm talking about. Those that aren't ... well you probably wouldn't understand. Suffice it to say that if you are near the wrong side of a steep slope when hot air is flowing down slope, and at a low altitude, you are dead. Mountain flying is not for the inexperienced. These down drafts can thrust you down many hundreds of feet under the wrong circumstances. At three hundred feet he and those that trusted him were doomed.

The Piper Cherokee Arrow 200 is my favorite airplane. It cruises at around 143 or so in level flight and is a dream to fly. Unfortunately, with a full load of four, It climbs like a pig.You just can't ask it to do something that it hasn't the ability to do. I once came close to killing myself and passengers when I took off on a hot day in Omak from a short runway. I had 1200 plus hours and used bad judgement. We survived. This young man, indubitably more impressed with his ability and that of the aircraft than deserved, died. It is unfortunate that he took three other fine young people with him.

Every student pilot learns early in his or her training one simple rule. "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but damn few old, bold pilots."

1 comment:

Geoff Knauth said...

A friend of mine, a very experienced pilot, survived a crash of a Cherokee 140 (w/160HP engine) near Sula, MT and Highway 93 in early June 2012. He said the weather was 3,000' ceiling, 10 miles visibility, little wind, no turbulence. He found himself in a bad downdraft, descending continuously for a minute and a half at 1500fpm even with full power. Eventually he crash landed on a road and was lucky to walk away. At this point I'm trying to understand the weather pattern, possible local in nature, that could have caused this sustained downdraft, given the apparent lack of high winds at ridge level. You wrote of warm winds flowing down a slope, which reminded me of Chinook winds when I lived in Colorado 40 years ago, but those were high winds of 100mph or so. My friend, who gave a presentation on his incident to Pennsylvania pilots last night, summed up his experience this way: "2500 AGL is not enough."