Do What's Right

From NAFI's Chair

Do What's Right

I've just seen an accident report for something that happened near Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge airport a couple of years ago. According to the NTSB report, a non-IFR pilot descended through an undercast and, at 5,400 feet MSL, according to the radar track, hit a mountain with a 6,500-foot elevation. The pilot apparently had a history of flouting the rules and had been counseled about his behavior by an experienced instructor several times in the past. Sadly, there were two innocent passengers who also perished in the crash. You can read the report here.

This event caught my attention because I've been to that airport, spending a weekend at a time-share with my wife. We flew in when the weather was VMC and, although the Smoky Mountains don't have the high jagged peaks that characterize the mountains of the west, they are very impressive. The minimum safe altitudes for both airway and off-airway navigation highlight the need for being circumspect in navigating the area. A descent into an undercast is always fraught with risks that need to be mitigated, but doing so blindly without knowing why and how the IFR system works strikes me as foolhardy at best and suicidal at worst.

Obviously, this isn't the first accident that I've ever heard or read about where the pilot has a history of macho-ism and/or anti-authoritarian behavior, and, sadly, will likely not be the last. But there are things we can do as instructors. Let's be sure that we always set the example of using proper risk management when we fly. Not just with our students, but when we fly ourselves - don't forget, others do watch and look up to us. Don't let your greater experience intimidate a pilot into doing something on their own for which they aren't ready - praise them for being careful and offer to teach them a new technique or procedure.

If you encounter someone who takes untoward risks, either purposefully or unknowingly, don't be embarrassed to say, "Look, correct me if I'm wrong, but I noticed something and I'm concerned about your well being." Be sure to take the time to explain the reasons behind the rules and regulations, encouraging them to look at risk factors. Don't just use the old adage of "they were written blood," but explain why understanding the meaning behind the regulations and procedures will not only help keep the pilot safe, but also honor those who have learned the hard lessons in the past.

For hard cases, you might ask them to consider the legacy they'll leave behind if they have an accident they could have avoided. Finally, if all else fails, don't be afraid to report someone who poses a risk to themselves or others and won't change. That may seem harsh, but perhaps a call from the right person will get their attention or get them out of the system and take away their ability to harm themselves or others.

Bob Meder,
NAFI Board Chair
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