Deciding to Have an Accident
Most pilots that I know have decided at one point in their flying careers to make a huge smoking crater in the earth. Although I don’t typically advertise the fact, the truth is, I’ve done it a few times, myself, though not for many years. Who knows, maybe you have too. After all, what could be more exciting than ending the day in a smoking heap of wreckage? What fun.
I am, of course, being facetious. Except for a few poor souls each year who use an airplane to do themselves in, nobody goes out to the airfield on a blue-sky day with the intent of having a wreck. It’s normally just the opposite. We usually do our best to avoid becoming a statistic.
Unfortunately we pilots occasionally make the choice — it’s often a conscious one — to do something that will expose ourselves to far greater risk than anything we do in our everyday flying lives, and when we make that kind of decision, we are, in essence, deciding to, well not quite “have an accident” but at least to make that likelihood far greater.
Don’t think so? Think again. The NTSB accident summaries are full of such accidents. The guy who flew past two dozen perfectly good fuel stops on his way to an off-airport arrival with close to a zero chance of a post-crash fire (for which you need at least a little fuel) is a great example. So is the guy who decides to show off his new vintage airplane to friends with an impromptu low-level maneuvering show. Then there’s the pilot who rolls the dice flying through potentially ice-filled skies in an airplane with no anti-ice equipment. He made the same decision, to have an accident. I won’t go into the details, but these are all accidents that happened to people I knew. They were smart people but they were all known to take risks. Each one of them got bit and bit hard by this tendency. I’m not trying to minimize the tragedy, but it was, ultimately, their choice to fly as they did. I have no doubt but that each of them would be here today had they chosen a more conservative path on their fatal day.
One could, of course, take this line of thinking too far. Going flying at all exposes us to greater risk than sitting at home watching the MMA replays on ESPN 3, but you could say the same thing about doing woodwork or driving in the fast lane. Some things in life are worth a little extra risk. The great thing about flying is, we can largely manage that risk. If we fly smart and avoid known areas of risk, if we are diligent in maintaining proficiency, if we approach the activity with a sober and professional stance, we can greatly reduce the risk.
Then again, sometimes we might feel like, I don’t know, flying under a bridge or doing an aileron roll upon entering the downwind leg. When this notion hits, that’s when it makes sense to remind yourself that what you’re doing is in a way akin to deciding to have an accident. Today. Right now. Maybe that’s just the kind of reminder we need to put our impulsivity and feelings of invulnerability on the shelf and get real.
By seeing it as a choice between landing and having a burger with good friends and family or very possibly winding up irrevocably dead (along with whomever is unlucky enough to be along for the ride that day), the choice should be clear.
I choose the burger.
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