Cautionary Tales


Each month, we sort through scores of recent NTSB preliminary accident reports to develop our Accident Briefs feature, which begins on page 19 this month. We don’t use all of them—there’s never enough space—so many prelims don’t make the cut. It might be helpful for readers if we explain how we decide which ones to publish.

We start with the premise that we’re trying to prevent accidents and educate readers on how and why they occur. Only rarely has the NTSB assigned a probable cause to each recent month’s collection of mishaps, so we dive into the narrative to identify a likely reason. The idea is that understanding how something happened can help the majority of us avoid repeating it. So, we typically exclude taildragger groundloops, agricultural operations and rotorcraft right off the bat. So, yes, there’s some selection bias: A relatively successful off-field landing without injuries probably won’t make the cut. But there are some themes we hammer on.

One of them is carburetor icing. This month, we include details on just such an accident, involving an Aeronca Champ that was ditched in shallow water after engine failure. Investigators dried out the electrical system and plumbed fresh fuel to it. It started right up and ran normally. The pilot later told the NTSB he didn’t apply carb heat until after he reduced power for a descent, when the engine’s power output apparently didn’t provide much heat. Another recurring theme is the first flight after maintenance or an annual inspection. This month, it was a Cessna 210 fresh out of its annual with plenty of fuel aboard. 

Of course, what we call stupid pilot tricks always are of interest. Like the Cessna 172 pilot who attempted taking off with a tailwind. A 172 departing ahead of the accident pilot used the runway’s full length. Our hero didn’t. There also was a Skylane RG pilot who literally dragged the airplane’s tail during a soft-field takeoff. They failed to lower the nose after liftoff and never climbed, ending up in trees.

There also were some apparent mechanical failures unrelated to powerplants, demonstrating there’s a good chance of walking away if we handle it correctly. One bottom line is there’s never a shortage of material for each issue’s Accident Briefs section, so please don’t feel like you have to contribute.

— Jeb Burnside


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