Rollin' rollin' rollin'...
August 10, 2012 11:37 AM   Subscribe

"This is unprecedented footage of a small airplane crash from inside the cockpit from two different views. Miraculously, everyone survived. The pilot will make a full recovery and the rest of us escaped with superficial injuries and feel very lucky to be alive." (Graphic accident footage, injuries are shown)

"This trip was much anticipated and due to our excitement we had our Gopro cameras filming at various times. After flying up into the mountains for a morning hike in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness we were planning on flying to a small mountain town for dinner. Due to warming temperatures there was an increase in density altitude and we had a hard time getting adequate lift. After taking off we hit an air pocket that made us rapidly loose altitude, pushing us down into the trees. The cameras were left on for a couple of hours during the aftermath. Thank you to all the many individuals who eventually came to our aid and took the time and effort to help in any way they could. We appreciate you more than you know.

"The aftermath: Two campers rushed there within about 15 to 20 minutes. They then went for help and found a retired paramedic and firefighter who came to our aid. About 50 minutes to and an hour after that a crew of fire fighters were driving through the area and somebody flagged them down. The fire crew cut down trees so a life flight helicopter could land. We really appreciated everyone's help and effort. We feel very blessed to have had such great people respond so quickly." (Nestled deep in the YouTube comments.)

A preliminary NTSB report matches the description given by the person who uploaded the video.
posted by heyho (79 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
No Return Wilderness

I think I see the problem.
posted by zamboni at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's weird to see a plane like this flying but not able to climb. The NTSB preliminary and the video both blame a downdraft, which may well be true. But two other possible issues..

One is density altitude, the effect air temperature has on air density and, therefore, engine power. Hot air is thinner and with less oxygen the engine won't put out as much power. It's a surprisingly big effect in non-turbocharged aircraft. Lots of crashes of folks who flew into a mountain airstrip in the morning, had lunch, then didn't have the power to take off again in the hot afternoon.

Another issue is ground effect; a plane can get airborne and fly up to about 20' before it's really going fast enough to fly. If you judge ground effect wrong you can try to pull up, stall, and crash. If you use it right you get the plane airborne early, off the dirt / grass, then accelerate without the rolling resistance.

I'm really glad they're alive, that's a very dangerous crash.
posted by Nelson at 11:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I watched this a few days ago, have been frustrated by the excuses and explanations, as well as many references to blessings and miracles. It's pretty obvious from the takeoff run that the plane is struggling for lift and it never gets any better for the duration of the flight. All pilot error.
posted by Ickster at 11:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


The Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area sounds fantastic.
At 2.367 million acres (9,580 km2), it is the second largest protected wilderness in the contiguous United States, after Death Valley. The wilderness protects several mountain ranges, extensive wildlife, and a popular whitewater rafting river: the Salmon River.…The Salmon River is a popular destination for whitewater rafting, and is colloquially known as the "River of No Return" for its swift current which makes upstream travel difficult.
posted by zamboni at 11:47 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


When they were both sitting on the ground looking at the camera, I thought, "this is weird, they look totally OK!" But then you see the (pilot?) and that guy has absorbed a serious beating from the woods.

I think it's pretty stupid to talk about pilot error at this point. What's the guy going to do, half-die again for his sins?
posted by circular at 11:47 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought this Reddit comment on the footage was pretty interesting, going into the multiple failures on the pilot's behalf.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:49 AM on August 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I also spent the first couple minutes wondering why he didn't set it back down when he failed to achieve lift.
posted by heyho at 11:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me too. I spent most of the video muttering, "put it back down! Put it back down!"
posted by idest at 11:51 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The comment of the YouTube video says they actually took a couple hours of footage of the aftermath, guess they edited it out. Frankly I think it'd be kind of interesting to watch the logistics of them getting out of there or help arriving. I don't know much about plane crashes in the wilderness.
posted by floam at 11:52 AM on August 10, 2012


That guy in the yellow shirt at the 5 minute mark looks like someone who just stared deep into the abyss.
posted by quadog at 11:54 AM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


think it's pretty stupid to talk about pilot error at this point.

I think there's plenty of information there for an informed opinion from anyone with experience or pilot skills, actually. It's pretty hard to understand why a pilot took a plane that was having that much trouble getting off the ground and then failing at all to gain any altitude past all that open area for so long before getting to the trees.
posted by Brockles at 11:59 AM on August 10, 2012


Takeaway #8001 from this video: Gopro cameras are awesome because seeing that slow motion of the crash itself was quite impressive. You could literally see when the camera was ejected from the cockpit and snapped a frame of the plane from outside. And it seems like they survived.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:00 PM on August 10, 2012


quadog: "That guy in the yellow shirt at the 5 minute mark looks like someone who just stared deep into the abyss."

I was riding shotgun with my brother driving a few years ago and he was trying to show off how fast he could go on a little back road. It was a bad idea in the first place. We were going 70MPH and I yelled "SLOW DOWN! BIG CURVE!". His answer? "I can handle it!".

The car fishtailed, then sailed into the woods. We came to a stop right to the left of an upended log that could have come through the windshield and taken my head off.

It wasn't until we got home that I started throwing up. I had very nearly met a horrible death.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:01 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


During the slo-mo, it seemed like the pilot was occupied with an iPad or tablet computer.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:01 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


So yeah. Chills watching this.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2012


*'they survived' references the cameras, to be clear.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2012


I think it's pretty stupid to talk about pilot error at this point. What's the guy going to do, half-die again for his sins?

I don't recall suggesting that he should be imprisoned or sued or taken out to the woodshed and caned.

I just hate the immediate absolution (air pocket? really?) and the chipper talk of blessings. I'd prefer a sober acknowledgement that mistakes led to an accident and everyone was fortunate it wasn't worse. The former just leads to more accidents, while the latter helps to avoid them.
posted by Ickster at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2012 [28 favorites]


I don't think that noting pilot error is akin to suggesting the pilot be expected to "almost die again for his sins". But noting pilot error is incredibly valuable in keeping other pilots from making the same error.

What that guy at Reddit says tracks with what the pilots I know say and it bears repeating--not to punish the pilot, not to suggest that he deserves to be hated, or deserves to suffer again or more but because sometimes the mistakes you make can kill people, so you know, those mistakes should be talked about.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


It was amazing to watch the slow-motion - the prop just obliterates tree after tree in front of the plane, and it's miraculous it held up as well as it did. Without that, I think the crash would have been much worse.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:06 PM on August 10, 2012


Google showed me ads for "Free Flight Training Magazine!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can anyone tell me where the slo-mo is in the video? I'm on a *slooooooow* connection.
posted by notsnot at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2012


Yeah, I also spent the first couple minutes wondering why he didn't set it back down when he failed to achieve lift.

If that NTSB report is the correct one, the runway is 5,000 feet long and at an altitude of over 6,000 feet. Four passengers will load that thing down pretty badly, so I wouldn't be surprised if it used most of the runway just to get airborne. After that, there's no "setting it back down" if there's no more runway in front of you.

Crashes are never caused by one major event, it's always a conflagration of minor mistakes that bring an airplane down. This is a textbook example. From the beginning:

a) Inadequate preflight. Pilot did not check the weather (or did, and discounted it). Pilot also did not perform a weight and balance before leaving. There's no information in the NTSB report about where they originated (the destination of MYL was presumably not the home base since they were head there for dinner), and it's likely the pilot was not used to mountain flying.

b) Poor decision making on the runway. If he had done a proper preflight, the pilot would have known how much runway he was going to use. After that point, it might have been a good idea to cut the power and not even take off. Even without the preflight, he certainly would have felt the plane was taking too long on the runway.

c) Wrong corrective action in the air. Once he realized he wasn't getting any higher, I'd say that's the point that they're fucked. "I can make it!" is a very dangerous and infectious way of thinking, and I'm certain he was sitting in the cockpit staring at the not-moving altimeter... pulling back, pulling back, altitude's not going up... pulling back.... Now he's very, very close to stalling the airplane.

d) Now you're in "you're fucked" territory. Can't pull up more because the plane will stall - although watching it without the sound I would have guessed it did stall (or at least "mush"), can't turn around because then you WILL stall and then put the airplane into a spin. Best you can hope for is a little luck, but it obviously wasn't coming.

Once he was in the air, there was no way out of this outcome. This was absolutely pilot error.

My guess is this. His aircraft is registered in Boise, which is almost 4,000 feet lower in altitude than the accident site. He was unfamiliar with mountain flying with a heavy load and did not consider the added weight or the increased temperatures. It's absolutely possible to fly into places you then can't fly out of again, and I think that's what happened here. Couple that with a desire not to "let down" your passengers by telling them that they have to wait, or that they have to find another method of transportation, and get-there-itis takes over and you have a crash.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


...and now that I've read that Reddit comment, since the stall horn was going the whole time I'm more convinced that he just kept pulling back on the yoke until he stalled the airplane. No downdraft (especially not over trees!), he just plain stalled it.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:11 PM on August 10, 2012


He was 100% mushing at the end. The footage from the side camera (at the end of the video) shows the plane in an extreme nose-up attitude.
posted by unSane at 12:12 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


posted by backseatpilot at 12:08 PM on August 10 [+] [!]

Ok, you've convinced me.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:14 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm most impressed with the plane, slicing through the trees like a weed whacker and failing to completely fall apart or catch fire upon impact. Bravo.
posted by swift at 12:16 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


This reddit comment seems to indicate that he's wrecked before. I admit ignorance as to the veracity of the same.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:16 PM on August 10, 2012


I'm at 30,000 feet right now -- in-flight wifi is pretty cool -- so I hope y'all understand if I save this thread for later.
posted by LordSludge at 12:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


If you get a chance to raft on the Salmon River you should take it.
posted by edeezy at 12:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


During the slo-mo, it seemed like the pilot was occupied with an iPad or tablet computer.

Seems hard to believe he was dorking with that as he was about to crash into trees. We see him mid-crash. Maybe it's just that instinctual response you get with high value breakable electronics where if you or it starts to fall you grab it and let your body hit the ground but keep it safe and cradled with your arms, damn the consequences.

Or is that one of those things where I'm weird
posted by floam at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2012


During the slo-mo, it seemed like the pilot was occupied with an iPad or tablet computer.

Looks like the iPad is running something like this, which he probably has georeferenced with a GPS. More likely, he's staring at the altimeter right behind the iPad willing it to move.

(The whistling sound about 10 seconds before the impact is the stall warning, I think.)
posted by backseatpilot at 12:23 PM on August 10, 2012


During the slo-mo, it seemed like the pilot was occupied with an iPad or tablet computer.

I think the iPad was attached to the yoke, so he was just flying the plane probably.
posted by unSane at 12:24 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm no expert, but I knew something was wrong when the propeller looked like this.

Why the pilot continued is beyond me.
posted by mazola at 12:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The takeoff was so slow and the plane gathered so little altitude I thought the plane would have crashed long before it did. I was surprised to see the tops of some of the trees in the grove near the runway although they weren't that far above them. I would have been freaking out at that point, long before they really did crash.
posted by tommasz at 12:26 PM on August 10, 2012


I have a different angle on this: the camera.

Buddy of mine got smucked while riding a motorbike and the footage painted the exact picture of what happened: he was doing a locally acceptable thing and a foreign driver didn't know how to handle it and punked him, then drove over his bike to get clear of the accident. Without the camera it would have been much more murky. (Fortunately my friend was wearing proper armour and only suffered a dirty leg break rather than anything worse, though he's been in the hospital for four weeks thus far.)

So yeah, cameras are pretty awesome to have when things go wrong. The footage makes it pretty clear the pilot had a sad case of I-THINK-I-CAN-I-THINK-I-CAN without the skill to follow through.

Glad everyone survived, of course, but damn.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:27 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whoa, I just happened to watch this the other day because I was searching for related youtube vids. It was pretty intense, but yeah I don't know much about planes but it seemed more like pilot error to me too. He didn't seem to get enough lift from get-go. Glad they survived.
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:39 PM on August 10, 2012


"Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don't have enough road to get up to 88."
posted by hellphish at 12:40 PM on August 10, 2012


I think it's pretty stupid to talk about pilot error at this point.

Oh, no, we hit that point about 1:05 in. That was a staggeringly long roll, and then he spends another minute trying -- and failing -- to gain any real altitude. He's got three pax plus himself, so the craft is heavily loaded. He's flying off a listed 5000'x110' turf/dirt runway at Bruce Meadows Airport (U63) and when he runs out of runway, he just keeps rolling. Never mind the list 6370' MSL airport altitude.

If you're in a Stinson 108 and it doesn't take off in 5000', something is very wrong. It may be a bad engine, it may be an overloaded plane, it may be a hot day and you've screwed up your density altitude equation, but if the plane is not off the ground and climbing at least 400 feet a minute (the listed best climb rate is 850'/min) when the end of the runway shows up -- well, what you should do is look at all the lovely flat ground in front of you and put the throttle back in, slow down, and taxi back and figure out what's not right.

This one didn't even have a better engine -- just the 166hp Franklin O335 flat six that it was built with, and it simply was not climbing. And the pilot kept trying to fly, and it kept not climbing. He was on a knife's edge of stalling the damn thing, and he flew right at some trees.

Pilot error may not be the sole cause -- there might have been an engine issue. But everything else there that might have caused it -- the load out, the badly done density altitude check, putting too much fuel in -- was the pilots fault.

But most egregiously, when it was obvious on the face that this plane was not climbing, he flee for 90 second with a plane that was barley able to get off the ground and barley climbing, and instead of setting down on all that flat ground, he just keeps going until the flat ground was covered in trees.

Then something happened -- he tried to turn, a gust of tailwind, an engine problem getting worse -- happens and he goes from almost no rate of climb to negative rate of climb, and he falls out of the sky.

Pilot errors. Multiple. The FAA talks about Airmanship, this guy basically showed none whatsoever. By god, he was going to fly or die trying. He's damn lucky that he was wrong about that too!
posted by eriko at 12:41 PM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think it's pretty stupid to talk about pilot error at this point.

Many years ago I amassed about six hours of flight instruction before it became too expensive for me to continue.

Even with that limited amount of training I could tell something was going horribly wrong when the plane overran the end of the runway and was still not climbing.
posted by Gev at 12:57 PM on August 10, 2012


the pilot had a sad case of I-THINK-I-CAN-I-THINK-I-CAN without the skill to follow through

Doesn't seem like skill enters into it, just physics and knowledge of what's possible and a willingness to tell your paying passengers 'tough luck, try again tomorrow'.
posted by echo target at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2012


The thing that always strikes me about reading NTSB crash reports is how mundane most crashes are. Crashes come from shortcuts that haven't caused problems for the tens or hundreds of times before that the pilot has gotten away with them. They come from taking a risk, getting through it, and thinking "oh, that wasn't so bad". So, yes, you can see the errors compound, but you can also see the decisionmaking process at each step of the way: "I got in here just fine, I'm gonna fly these guys home." "Yeah, it's a little heavy, but I don't want to have to make trips, that'd mean someone stays here 'til after dark, maybe even overnight, it'd be a pain in the ass..." "Wow, that was a long takeoff roll, but I'm up now, and if I tried to set it back down I'd take off the landing gear in a gully and destroy the aircraft..."

All of those are mundane decisions. I can totally see weighing the odds and going "just thise once", and all of those are the reason that, despite being totally enamoured with flying when I was young, I don't have a pilot's license, and even stopped hang glider piloting certification after two days of instruction.

Because being a good pilot is about not being a hero, and not doing the impossible, and not pushing the envelope.
posted by straw at 1:05 PM on August 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


> During the slo-mo, it seemed like the pilot was occupied with an iPad or tablet computer.

I think it was just mounted to the stick, as iPads and Android tablets are very useful to amateur pilots. In fact, that's might what have smashed up the pilot's face.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:08 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


when he runs out of runway, he just keeps rolling.

Rewatching the video, I think he did actually make it off the ground before the end of the runway. Looking out the right window, there's the dirt track, and then a small creek appears on the left side of the runway, and then you can see some white markers that are the end of the runway. So he was probably technically airborne at the point... but just barely.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:12 PM on August 10, 2012


A series of fortunate events help Timberline High AD, other passengers survive crash.
posted by swift at 1:44 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The pilot should lose his certificate permanently. Bad enough to crash a perfectly good airplane for no good reason after it's 100% clear there's a problem. But to risk 3 passengers in the process is really unforgivable. Even after the takeoff which he should have aborted he had long stretches of empty ground where he could have put down with probable minimal damage and low risk to life and limb. I think any pilot watching the video would be gobsmacked at the poor judgement displayed.
posted by Long Way To Go at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2012


Crashes come from shortcuts that haven't caused problems for the tens or hundreds of times before that the pilot has gotten away with them.

Indeed, and this occurs in automotive crashes, too. I can't count the number of times I've seen someone rolling up to stopped traffic at a light, who sees the cross traffic has a yellow and so goes around the stopped traffic in the right-turn lane, hitting the intersection right as the light turns green and going on his or her merry way.

However, I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen that lead to a crash, because someone making a left or crossing the intersection hadn't cleared by the time the light changed, and that number would be three. I'm pretty sure the drivers in each case had been mentally congratulating themselves yet again for another successful, efficient no-stop intersection timing right before impact.
posted by davejay at 1:54 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because being a good pilot is about not being a hero, and not doing the impossible, and not pushing the envelope.

So Iceman was right? :(
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't understand what was happening in that video. There was a break in the video and I thought it was first showing the takeoff, omitting the flight, and starting up again as he's coming in for a landing. I kept wondering why he didn't just cut the power if he was trying to land. And then WTF?? Oh hell he's still trying to take off. This pilot does not know the difference between up and down.

Then I read the link in the reddit thread about his previous crash.. two years ago.. at age 67. This pilot is almost 70 years old. This reminds me of the MeFi discussion about the 74 year old pilot who smashed his P-52 into the spectators at the Reno Air Show. How old do you have to get, how weak, how much will your reaction time slow down, how senile must you be, before the FAA takes away your license? This pilot should have been grounded permanently after his previous crash. But I suppose it won't take long before he craters and is grounded permanently. The problem is, how many people will he take with him?

Then I read swift's link, and I was livid. Listen to this utter bullshit:

“When you’re flying in the backcountry, anything can happen no matter how much you prepare, how much you think about it,” Les Gropp said. “From the time I realized that we were going to have to put it down someplace, and I was trying to make it back to the airport, it was less than a minute that you have to react. Whatever experience that you have in the past is what you put into what occurs then.”

what is this I don't even

LESS THAN A MINUTE to set the plane down? That pause in the video is at 17 seconds, so let's start the clock there. He's already struggling to get into the air and fiddling with the controls with a look of concern. The crash is at 2:56. You damn IDIOT, you had two and a half minutes to set that goddam plane down. I looked closely at the video, at NO TIME did he EVER make any turn to take the plane back to the airport.

Oh but the article gets better. It seems like everyone around for miles and miles watched the plane struggling and rushed to the crash site. EMTs that just happened to be camping nearby and assisted, but the air evac copter to airlift Mr. Idiot to the hospital couldn't land amidst the trees. So a crew from the BLM that rushed to the crash site cut down a bunch of trees to make a landing zone. Hey let's not just splatter oil and gas all over the wilderness, let's chop it all down too!

Now the punch line. Here is a direct quote from the caption underneath the photo of Mr. Idiot and Mr. Idiot Jr:

No one could have predicated the June 30th outing would go so terribly wrong.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:12 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had very nearly met a horrible death.

Or quite possibly the best: immediate and faster than you could think.

Re: analyzing the reasons it happened — that's what the motorcycle community has done, and it saves lives.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:35 PM on August 10, 2012


I'm not a pilot, but this is just kind of screwed up. They're just lucky no one was killed.

I just hate the immediate absolution (air pocket? really?) and the chipper talk of blessings.

Put me in this camp as well.
posted by maxwelton at 2:46 PM on August 10, 2012


at NO TIME did he EVER make any turn to take the plane back to the airport.

He didn't have enough height to make the turn, though. Planes lose altitude when they turn, and there was none to lose, nor power available to mitigate the height loss. Turning would have been the wrong thing to do, but an early abort would have been the right thing.
posted by Brockles at 2:46 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


This pilot is almost 70 years old. ... This pilot should have been grounded permanently after his previous crash.

Given his age, the injuries that the pilot incurred will probably require a significant period of recovery before he is able to fly again. Hopefully he takes the time to do an honest assessment of his capabilities.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:02 PM on August 10, 2012


Here you can see an elevation profile I did leading up to the crash location, with the help of Google Earth. Looks like they were able to manage a 50 fpm climb and negotiate the clearings, but the terrain was rising at a faster rate during the last 30 seconds and eventually the tree stands caught up with them. I don't buy the "pocket of less dense air" theory. Interestingly if they had made it another few hundred feet the terrain would have dropped off gradually, then sharply, and I'd imagine the pilot would have tried following the river basin to the northwest.

As far as getting out of the crash site, it looks like there was a dirt road near there which led about 800 feet to a gravel road, so EMS wouldn't have had much of a problem getting in if they had cell phones.
posted by crapmatic at 3:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


And looking at the topographic maps, even the rivers to the northwest wouldn't have helped, as they rise in elevation and the plane would have stayed walled in and eventually crashed unless they found a clearing to put it down in. Overloaded and doomed from the very start.
posted by crapmatic at 3:08 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll bet the pilot probably figured out precisely the weight/fuel necessary for lift at that air density but didn't account for the Gopro cameras as carry on.

:(
posted by mazola at 3:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit sad to read all this blaming of the pilot. One fun thing about the general aviation community is the sense of mutual respect and between pilots. It's a little like how Etsy talks about their blameless postmortems; although not so much "don't find fault" as it is a healthy respect that faults can happen to anybody, in lot of ways. When I see a crash like this my first thought is not "this guy is an idiot", it's "how can I be sure I don't make this mistake?" Even when watching a pilot who clearly is an idiot, may main thought is "why is this guy acting like such an idiot and how do I make sure I don't ever start acting that dumb?"

NTSB reports are particularly good for this as they are detailed, expert, dispassionate examinations of what led to the accident. 70% of GA accidents are pilot related (see page 13 of the 2010 Nall report), but when you're a pilot that's you, part of the system, not someone external to blame.

70 is really not that old to be flying a small plane and carrying passengers. I know many 70 year old pilots I'd trust way more than younger, less experienced pilots. Unless there's an actual medical issue impacting capability, 70 is fine. There is a specific medical examination that's required every few years that's pretty strict, although with the new Light Sport rules you can now fly a 2 person plane with just a driver's license and self-evaluation for medical attestation.
posted by Nelson at 3:32 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


How old do you have to get, how weak, how much will your reaction time slow down, how senile must you be, before the FAA takes away your license?

You have to be old enough, weak enough, senile enough, and have reactions slow enough that you fail your medical.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey let's not just splatter oil and gas all over the wilderness, let's chop it all down too!

I think one of the things that saved them was that the trees they flew into were mostly dead from pine beetle infestation (a common problem in this part of the world) and were mostly the consistency of balsa wood - notice how the prop was able to mow through the treetops.

They landed in a dead zone. Actually, we should be lucky they didn't cause a major, major forest fire.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


not so much "don't find fault" as it is a healthy respect that faults can happen to anybody, in lot of ways

I completely agree with you. Ragging on about what an idiot the guy is/was is just as bad as pretending he didn't make mistakes. As several other people have pointed out, analyzing the chain of events honestly as something that any pilot could conceivably done is what's important.

I'd really hope that a pilot watching this would be more inclined to mentally file this away as a reminder of how bad decisions can really bite you, rather than just thinking, "I'd never be as much of an idiot as that guy."
posted by Ickster at 5:19 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You damn IDIOT, you had two and a half minutes to set that goddam plane down. I looked closely at the video, at NO TIME did he EVER make any turn to take the plane back to the airport.

That, actually, was correct. If he tried to turn the airplane, the loss of lift that would have occurred would have him hitting the ground in a bank. He didn't try to turn until it was "turn or hit that tree" -- and hit just hit another tree.

No, the answer was to turn your 1-3 foot per minute climb into a 50 foot per minute sink and land straight ahead.

One of the rules in an emergency is "look for flat ground ahead of you", because that's the easiest thing to reach if you really need to land right now. Airports behind you require you to turn. Turning takes energy.

Indeed, going back to the US Air plane in the Hudson, if Sully had known instantly that he was two engines out, not one engine out, he could have kept going straight and then made a slight turn for Teterboro and landed safely there. But, alas, he didn't, and he followed the procedures, which was to turn the plane around and land back at LGA. Once he'd done this, the second engine started to die and he knew that he didn't have the energy to get to LGA, and with the energy he'd lost in the turn and the fact that he was pointing the wrong way, he didn't have the energy to reach Teterboro.

So, he looked for flat ground...and found none. He then picked flat water, and saved the life of every person on the plane.
posted by eriko at 5:35 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually, we should be lucky they didn't cause a major, major forest fire.

I'm not really a crash expert, but I do read the NTSB database pretty religiously and there are a lot fewer fires caused by crashes than you would expect. The tanks are generally in wings behind the engine, and if they rupture there's no readily available source of ignition back there.

It's more likely to have a fire in circumstances like really hard gear-up landings that a) break a fuel line forward of the firewall and b) provide a hot spot, such as the engine that was just running seconds before. Spray fuel on to the hot manifold and that starts a fire which quickly works its way backwards and eats the airplane.

I'd really hope that a pilot watching this would be more inclined to mentally file this away as a reminder of how bad decisions can really bite you, rather than just thinking, "I'd never be as much of an idiot as that guy."

Honestly, I don't fly in the mountains and very rarely go anywhere near max gross so doing something like double checking the density altitude before I leave is not something in my checklist. Were I in the same situation, I hope that I would have had the foresight to get some mountain flying training with an instructor beforehand and really keep an eye on my preflight calculations.

I make no claims to being an expert pilot, but I do feel that I am very aware of my limitations and I don't push them. Working at an airport for several summers as a teenager allowed me to actually witness the flying habits of a large group of people, and it really drove home the point that you're almost guaranteed to fuck something up if you bluster about and try to fly outside of your comfort zone. And while there was a certain camaraderie among the pilots I serviced, the flight instructors and us on the flight line all knew who had their shit together and who was waiting their turn to crater into the ground somewhere.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:57 PM on August 10, 2012


eriko: If he tried to turn the airplane, the loss of lift that would have occurred would have him hitting the ground in a bank.

Of course, but that's not my point. He said he tried to turn back to the airport, but the tape shows no such thing. He's a goddam hero in his own mind.

ROU_Xenophobe" You have to be old enough, weak enough, senile enough, and have reactions slow enough that you fail your medical.

Yes, of course, but just how bad do you have to be, to fail your medical? How often does a 70 year old pilot have to take a medical exam? I vaguely recall hearing you are required to have a medical evaluation after a crash. I'm checking around the FAA flight physical websites, I don't see any clear indicators that apply to elderly pilots. In fact, it looks like the whole system is tiptoeing around a whole bunch of individual conditions that ought to disqualify you when you've got several moderately dangerous conditions. But it is clear that he will be grounded until his jaw is no longer wired shut, because that's disqualifying, it prevents you from using the radio.

Ickster: I'd really hope that a pilot watching this would be more inclined to mentally file this away as a reminder of how bad decisions can really bite you, rather than just thinking, "I'd never be as much of an idiot as that guy."

Unfortunately, this was a long series of bad decisions that started long before he ever got into the aircraft. And it is an ongoing series of bad decisions, like telling the newspapers you're a goddam hero, when there is evidence to the contrary on YouTube and easily available to the FAA.

As far as getting out of the crash site, it looks like there was a dirt road near there which led about 800 feet to a gravel road, so EMS wouldn't have had much of a problem getting in if they had cell phones.

Aren't general aviation aircraft required to carry emergency locator transmitters?
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:11 PM on August 10, 2012


70 years old isn't too old for making regular day-to-day decisions (most of the time), but when you're flying an airplane you need to be razor sharp. He needs his licence revoked.

Also, a long time ago I flew in a small four seater (I have no idea what make of plane) over the Grand Canyon. The pilot stayed pretty low over the forest while flying towards the Canyon and then he dips into the Canyon and announces that was his "Disneyland Entrance". As wonderful as that flight was, I don't know that I could do it again.
posted by deborah at 6:32 PM on August 10, 2012


I didn't watch the entire video (horribly slow connection here) but the first part, with them taxiing forever and barely staggering off the ground, was an uneasy reminder of the most nerve-wracking flight I've ever taken.

It was on Burma Airways in the mid-80s, taking off from a small airport in the northern highlands. The plane was old and a bit shabby, the entire airline clearly ran on a shoestring, and their safety record wasn't inspiring. So the plane rattles down the runway, turboprops clawing for air, and we get maybe 100 feet off the ground. And stay there, engines still howling at takeoff throttle, ground racing past below us but not getting any further away. After about 10 minutes which felt a lot longer we came to the edge of an escarpment and the ground fell away abruptly, which is a helluva way to gain altitude. I don't think the plane ever climbed higher than that, since the pilot throttled down after we crossed the scarp.

I was never able to find out if this was SOP on this route, although it wouldn't surprise me given the general state of things in Burma at the time. Maybe it was a way to economize on fuel, maybe the engines were poorly maintained, maybe the plane was more loaded than usual, but it was the only time I've ever seriously thought I might be in a plane crash.
posted by Quietgal at 6:37 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Were I in the same situation, I hope that I would have had the foresight to get some mountain flying training with an instructor beforehand

Yeah, mountain training really is valuable. You can read all you want about pressure altitude and density altitude and look at performance charts, but there's nothing like the unpleasant realization that your plane doesn't have the power to climb properly. Particularly if you're flying towards rising terrain or are caught in a mountain wave downdraft. Either is a good way to end up in the ground.

I did a fabulous mountain flying trip a couple of years ago in Colorado with a flight instructor. So much fun, I learned a lot. The most exciting airport for me was Telluride, at 9000' on a 90° afternoon. If you look at the terrain map you can see the situation is, um, challenging. We followed SOP and took off to the west, counting on the fact we could sink down below the runway and fly down the river valley if necessary. There's plenty of space to do that safely in the right plane, but you want to plan carefully.

then he dips into the Canyon and announces that was his "Disneyland Entrance".

Oh that sounds like fun! I mean, it's a jackass pilot move if he made you nervous or surprised you or did it dangerously. But the Grand Canyon is absolutely enormous and huge and there's plenty of room to fly safely down in it. Sadly, not legally: the airspace over the park is heavily protected. I forget but when we flew over it we were something like 3000' above the canyon rim, in the allowed SFRA.

No discussion of older unsafe pilots is complete without the story of Senator Inhofe (R-OK) who landed his airplane on a closed runway in Texas with workers on the runway scrambling for safety. He was 75 at the time, but no one suggested medical impairmen. Just recklessness and arrogance. And being a Senator, not only did he get off with a tiny slap of the wrist but he later passed a law that's in some ways a fuck you to the FAA (although probably a good law).
posted by Nelson at 7:17 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, the first part of this was the most insane, where he's just skimming above the earth forever.
posted by odinsdream at 7:29 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just recklessness and arrogance.

I heard somewhere that doctors and lawyers have the highest accident rates in general aviation. I don't recall the source, so I don't know if it's adjusted for the population of private pilots and light aircraft owners, who probably tend to be rich so that includes a lot of doctors and lawyers.

I will note that an elderly relative of mine who was an M.D. surrendered his medical license long before he gave up his pilot's license.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:31 PM on August 10, 2012


Made me think of this askme. Something about a 7% chance of death, something something much worse than a motorcycle.
posted by marble at 7:48 PM on August 10, 2012


I've been by that airstrip a few times for kayaking trips. The airstrip is at 6400 feet and the weather that day was in the 80s so he was really pushing it with a low powered Stinson and four people on board. The density altitude was probably around 10,000 feet so it's surprising he was able to take off at all.

The airstrip is on a logging road but it is about an hour away over a pass to the nearest town, Stanley, which has less than a hundred residents. There is no cell service. There is a ranger station about an hour in the opposite direction with a radio telephone.

Bear Creek Valley is about the only big flat area around for many miles. A 5000 foot runway is considered very long compared to most of the bush airstrips in the region. If you can't take off in 5000 feet, you probably aren't going to make it.
posted by JackFlash at 11:51 PM on August 10, 2012


Besides the pilot's, there is an incredible amount of poor judgment going on in this thread. (Note: I'm an airplane owner and pilot, I've trained to and flown in and out plenty of Idaho backcountry strips, including Bruce Meadows). Leave it to the NTSB and the people gathering actual relevant facts before you speculate wildly. Here are my wild speculations.

I'll just pick a few examples, then shut up: Someone upthread suggested that the pilot should have turned around and headed back to the strip. No. The fact that he didn't try to do this is why everyone in the plane survived. This was so-called "controlled flight into terrain," but a stall-spin accident is uncontrolled and usually kills everyone onboard.

A bunch of assumers assume the plane was overloaded. It might well have been, and I wouldn't take off at that density altitude without at least a couple hundred pounds of margin below max gross weight, but if that Stinson was original, its empty weight would have been ~1,320 lbs with a max gross weight of 2,400 lbs. Three skinny dudes and a regular size dude, a little luggage and 2 hours of fuel would have put it around 2130 lbs on takeoff, or a 270 lb margin. BTW, this Stinson is registered with its original modestly powered Franklin engine, but most of the Stinsons around here (I flew myself to North Idaho for a vacation last Wednesday) have more modern engines with up to twice the displacement, partly because Franklin engines have been out of production for a decade or more, are hard to find or get parts for, and partly because who doesn't want an extra 50 - 100 hp.

Another just plain wrong assertion some commenters have made: "The plane never even got out of ground effect." Ground effect would only exist to (and be fading in intensity by) an altitude of 35 feet AGL. As the NTSB factual report mentioned and the video shows, they were 60 - 70 feet above the treetops for a while. The plane was definitely off the runway, flying, and climbing, just not quite as fast as the terrain. You would only need to climb and maintain a few hundred feet to make it up the valley to the northeast and around the corner to the Stanley airstrip, which is 30 feet higher in altitude. (Not that I'd PLAN to do that -- downdrafts are common in mountainous areas.)

Last clarification: The airstrips around there might be listed as pretty short -- Stanley is listed as 1,600 feet, which most (all?) normally aspirated production piston singles would have no chance of taking off from on a hot day. But that's just the paved part. There's another 3,000+ feet of unpaved runway. At Bruce Meadows, the fact that the dirt strip ran out doesn't mean he was out of runway. (The white rocks do, though.) When flying at high (density) altitude strips, you EXPECT long takeoff rolls and lousy climb rates.

Also, @JackFlash, what are you talking about? There's certainly no Bear Creek or Bear Valley airport in Idaho, and the only Bear Creek Valley I can find is a lodge between McCall and New Meadows.

Finally, I understand the criticism based on the long takeoff roll, and lots of chances to abort the takeoff and figure out why it wasn't going so well, although I had a hard time deciding exactly where I would have aborted. This guy probably does nearly this all the time, knows what his plane is normally capable of, and gets away with it. He certainly has lots of mountain flying experience (OK, including the prior no-injury 152 crash into a snowy runway). Maybe there was a problem with just one part of one cylinder*, which reduced power by up to 25%, making this crash inevitable, in which case, good job dude -- no one got killed.

If you're not a mountain-flying trained pilot, please don't tell us all about how he screwed up. He'll have time to go over that on his own and probably with the FAA.

--
Could have been a spark plug wire, spark plug, intake or exhaust valve or cam, cracked head, cracked cylinder, cracked piston, broken connecting rod or wrist pin, etc.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 4:07 AM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and my 72 year old Dad just got a 98% on his private pilot written exam and passed his 3rd class medical exam. I'm buying him flying lessons now, and if I thought he wasn't safe to learn to fly, I sure as hell wouldn't buy him lessons.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 4:19 AM on August 11, 2012


I know, I know, I said I'd write the one post and shut up, but I can't let this one pass.

Charlie, would you change your opinion about how much blame Jimmy Leeward should take for the horrific P-51 crash at the Reno Air Races if you learned that the first known problem was that the elevator trim tab broke off, likely subjecting him to 10 - 12 G's unexpectedly and causing immediate loss of consciousness?

There was a similar incident (P-51 with failed elevator trim tab during a race) that happened during straight-and-level flight to Bob Hannah in which he blacked out and recovered consciousness at several thousand feet higher altitude after his plane had bled off a bunch of energy in the climb. Bob Hannah's and Jimmy Leeward's ages and skills as pilots weren't relevant at all to the outcomes, just the luck of the trim tab breaking in level flight vs. a turn.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 4:37 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Argh, this has been bugging me all night. In fairness to Burma Airways, I'd like to revise my altitude estimate to about 500' - still unnervingly close to the ground for a commercial flight but not quite brushing-the-treetops insane.
posted by Quietgal at 7:47 AM on August 11, 2012


There's certainly no Bear Creek or Bear Valley airport in Idaho

The airstrip is called Bruce Meadows. Bear Creek is the flat, treeless area the airstrip is in. It is the only flat, treeless area like that for miles around.
posted by JackFlash at 9:44 AM on August 11, 2012


My husband and I like watching I Shouldn't Be Alive and yelling at the people. "How can you go into the desert without taking a water bottle, you idiot! What were you thinking, hiking a glacier in a t-shirt!" I look forward to this episode.

That said, last year we were in the middle of bear country in a sports car and we nearly got stuck overnight on a rutted, muddy dirt road that was too narrow for us to turn around on. No cell phone reception, no flashlights, no GPS. Stupid. OTOH, we could have been on a TV show!
posted by desjardins at 9:44 AM on August 11, 2012


People are just dying to be famous.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2012


Flying in a small plane from Boise to Lowman/Stanley/Challis makes for some incredibly beautiful and awesome flights. Pretty doggone bumpy in the summertime, too. The first time up, I'm pretty sure I left clinch marks in the seat.

My brother was a meticulous pilot and absolutely anal in his calculations and pre-flight checks. He told me there was nothing worse than a passenger for distraction, even if they were absolutely quiet. There was a certain temptation to allow your ego into the situation as well as hurry up and cut corners to engage in the social situation. Ego and inattention have no place in flying.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:49 PM on August 11, 2012


So the plane rattles down the runway, turboprops clawing for air, and we get [500] feet off the ground. And stay there, engines still howling at takeoff throttle, ground racing past below us but not getting any further away. After about 10 minutes which felt a lot longer we came to the edge of an escarpment and the ground fell away abruptly, which is a helluva way to gain altitude. I don't think the plane ever climbed higher than that, since the pilot throttled down after we crossed the scarp.

Yeah...when I was little, a plane my family was on made an unannounced stop at Saba. We flew directly at a mountain and then suddenly descended and turned. We thought we were going to die. And then again on takeoff, which was accomplished similarly: flying off the end of a cliff. The Saba Dip.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


snuffleupagus, that was so awesome. I have a new goal. Oh man, I want to do that!
posted by heyho at 4:39 PM on August 14, 2012


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