The Milky Way

Over the water, in the clouds and flying partial panel - was this nuts or what?


My parents were moving furniture after selling their South Florida vacation house, so I was a good son and volunteered to help. I planned to hop down to Boca Raton on Saturday morning and fly back that afternoon. If the day got long, I was prepared to stay the night. My 8-year-old son was eager to go, too, saying that he wanted to do something nice for grandpa.

Early Saturday we got up and I called Flight Service on the way to the airport. A cold front was working its way through South Florida and conditions from Fort Pierce south were IFR, but it was expected to clear out in the time it would take me to get there.

I considered driving, but decided to fly the Citabria instead because it was beautiful in Orlando and would likely be the same down south before noon. I updated the weather before leaving and found Fort Pierce had cleared out, but the next few airports along the route had not yet gone VFR – exactly as forecast.

A short while later I was cruising south along the east coast of Florida at 3,000 feet. As I transitioned Vero Beach, I missed an omen of what was to come.

A Seneca was coming in on an instrument approach on a course that intersected mine. The towers traffic calls to the twin resulted in them calling IMC, despite the fact that their altitude was about the same as mine.

Vero then passed me to Miami Center for flight following and I transitioned Fort Pierce just offshore. Ahead I could see the ceiling was lowering. I found myself edging down to 1,500 feet, then 1,000 feet to maintain VFR. The warnings started going off because I was out over the ocean and much too low for comfort.

I had descended out of Miami Centers range, so I turned toward shore and dialed in Stuart, the next airport about seven miles to the south. I asked airport conditions and was advised the field was IFR. I consulted my sectional quickly and thats when the windows went white.

There I was, at 1000 feet over the ocean in IMC flying partial panel. I made my next mistake. I turned left to make my escape back the way Id come. If I would have turned right, the shoreline would have helped as it became visible. As it was, I had to complete the turn over featureless gray water.

I broke into the clear a couple of minutes later, called up Fort Pierce and landed for a cup of coffee. I called my dad and told him I was stuck, but would probably be there in an hour or so.

Two hours later, I was still on the ground, as the front refused to budge. Ceilings had gone up to 850 feet to the south. I could have buzzed along the beach at 500 feet and made it legally, but clearly that would have been an idiotic thing to do. Defeated, I returned home.

My son was disappointed. So was I. Surprisingly, my dad was not, pleased that Id made the effort but would be around to visit another day.

-Ken Ibold


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here