Talking about the Twin Commander Crash in New Haven
It is doubly tragic when innocents on the ground are killed in a crash.
By Robert Goyer / Published: Aug 13, 2013
The fatal crash of a Twin Commander in New Haven, Connecticut, this weekend, in which four people were killed, including two children on the ground, was a horrible tragedy. For some reason, the pilot lost control of the airplane while on his second approach in IMC. The Commander crashed into a house under the approach path, killing two young girls, one just a year old and the other just 13, along with the 54-year-old pilot and his 17-year-old son.
The crash, which otherwise wouldn’t have generated much notice, became front-page news and prompted notification of Connecticut governor Daniel Malloy, precisely because kids on the ground lost their lives.
This is always the case when there are injuries or deaths on the ground as a result of a light airplane crash.
From a pilot’s perspective, the crash was a sad reminder that IFR flight has risks. This fact is no surprise to any of us, but crashes serve as grim and stark reminders of it. The weather was barely IFR, a fact that the NTSB will surely take into account when it investigates the accident.
Of course, the question of just what happened remains. There is already a lot of speculation on the subject, but I won’t be speculating here. Suffice it to say that it was an accident. Like all of us who fly, the pilot, who was killed along with his son, didn’t intend to crash. He certainly didn’t intend to hurt anyone on the ground. By all appearances, it was in every way an accident.
But a bigger question is, was it an accident waiting to happen, as many non-pilots will assume? The answer is an unqualified “no.”
To start with, airports are located in places where people want to go, so they are often situated in cities. I’ve flown into New Haven Tweed a handful of times; its proximity to neighborhoods never struck me as anything but very typical. The pilot was flying an FAA certificated airplane with a fine safety record. The airplane, presumably, was registered and had been maintained to the requirements of the regulations, too.
The pilot, we can assume, was properly certificated to conduct the flight as well.
Moreover, the airport has met hundreds of stringent requirements imposed on it by the FAA.
Still, residents are voicing concern over their location below the flight path. Doubtless, opponents of airports in a number of urban areas will cynically use the tragedy to shore up their arguments that airports are dangerous and should be closed.
The truth is, it’s very rare for people on the ground to be killed in an aircraft accident. In fact, some years there are zero causalities on the ground. This is the case even when an airplane crashes in the middle of a densely populated area, as was the case with the New Haven crash. It’s not luck but just the odds. We think of people being packed into urban areas, but the truth is, they are not. There are a lot of empty spaces between where we live and work and play. The chances of an airplane crashing into an empty space are much greater than it going into an occupied dwelling. In fact, even when a crash does hit a house, the occupants are usually unharmed or slightly injured. More people are killed and injured by a lightning strike each year. Far more people are killed and injured by runaway cars and buses. More people are killed in animal attacks. Statistically speaking, being on the ground, even below the approach path to a busy airport, is one of the safest places you can be.
Tragically, ill fortune did strike New Haven this weekend, and our message to non-pilots needs to be clear: It was a terrible accident and a terrible loss for families and friends of both the pilot and his son and of the young girls on the ground. But it was, let's remember, an accident and a rare one at that.
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