May 2011 Issue

How CFIT Happens

Controlled-flight-into-terrain accidents occur because of cut corners. Flying the published IFR procedure is the best way to prevent them.

Controlled flight into terrain, CFIT, accidents afflict pilots of all skill levels—those with rookie-level experience and those with more than enough experience to know better than to fall into the traps leading to an abrupt, final, premature arrival. According to a review of NTSB records, more than 40 CFIT-related accidents occurred in the 10 years ending in 2010. And they’re unforgiving and deadly, with 39 of 43 incurring 112 fatalities. The senselessness of one such accident prompted a former NTSB staff member to suggest a review of the probable-cause report issued in an October 2009 crash. The former staffer felt the abbreviated report left a few questions unanswered; the NTSB’s probable-cause cite in the final report read with characteristic candor, citing "the pilot’s decision to continue VFR flight into instrument meteorological weather conditions which resulted in controlled flight into terrain."

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