The other day I read about an accident that happend in a neighborhood in the Los Angeles, California area. As I was flying over the congested spread of the city later that day I was contemplating what my options would be should I have an engine failure. With the crowded streets, tightly packed homes and thousands of power lines, there are not many available emergency-landing sites other than runways.
I asked myself: "If you’re experiencing trouble in the cockpit, how far do you press on?" I suppose it depends on what the problem is. Suppose I was on my way from Mammoth to Santa Monica. Near Santa Clarita I have an alternator failure. In that case I could reduce my electrical output and keep going to Santa Monica without even having to worry about a loss of communication. And I certainly wouldn't end up on a city street or golf course if the alternator failure was my only problem.
But with engine trouble, it's a different story. A rough-running engine could be an issue that is quickly solved with something as simple as carburetor heat. But unless it's a quick fix, the best thing to do is to put the airplane down as soon as possible. Not many people survive hitting power poles, trees and buildings. Having a choice, I’d rather put my airplane down on a runway.
I may be tempted to continue flying, particularly if the intended destination is close enough that it's almost in view. But if my engine trouble began over Santa Clarita and I couldn't fix the issue immediately and be sure the fix solved the problem at hand (such as the carb ice situation), I would let the controllers know that I had engine issues and would like to divert to Van Nuys. My life and the lives of the people below me are too valuable to risk continuing to fly an airplane that seconds later may not be able to continue its intended path.
We welcome your comments on flyingmag.com. In order to maintain a respectful environment, we ask that all comments be on-topic, respectful and spam-free. All comments that do not comply with these guidelines will be removed.