A Weekend Party + an Invitation to Fly = Tragedy

According to news reports, the widely known and well-respected pilot stopped by an outdoor party last weekend and asked several guests if they'd like to go for a ride. Later that day, his Beech BE95 Travel Air twin buzzed low over the party several times, initiated a steep turn and then crashed into a nearby pasture, killing the pilot and his four passengers. The 58-year-old pilot owned a local aircraft-brokerage firm and had been flying since he was a teenager. The owner of another business located at the same airport said of the pilot, "I was very shocked to find out about the crash because he had a lot of experience. [The pilot] had a very successful business and was very well liked and did it the right way." [my emphasis]

The simple lesson is: "If you buzz, you'll die." But that's too simple. Yes, buzzing is dangerous, and it's easy to blame the pilot for showing a lack of respect for his actions. It will be some time before the NTSB comes up with its analysis of exactly what happened here. What raises a question for me is the quote about how the accident pilot was known for approaching flying "the right way." Maybe it was a friend and colleague protecting the reputation of the pilot. But it is a sad fact that knowledge, experience and even a generally respectful and prudent attitude toward flying do not guarantee protection from disaster. In recent years we've seen Steve Fossett, Scott Crossfield and earlier this year, mountain flying guru Sparky Imeson all come to grief. All were well-respected pilots. All had the reputation for "doing it the right way." While it's certainly possible to point out exactly where and how these pilots failed on their fatal flights, the inevitable question that must haunt pilots with less expertise is, "If it could happen to them, what more can I do to stay as safe as possible?"

I believe part of the answer is to continue to ask that very question every day -- before, during and after every flight. There is always something new to learn, and always something we could have done better. When an accident like this one comes along, and it doesn't necessarily lend itself to the simple explanation, we need to look deeper for the lesson that will enhance the safety of our own flying.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at enewsletter@flyingmag.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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