Choice of Action

To make the choices determining each flights outcome, we first need information on which to base decisions.


Almost by definition, pilots generally are self-reliant, often preferring to depend on their own talent and experience instead of someone elses. At the end of the day, choosing to fly a personal airplane is, well, personal. Sharing with others our enjoyment of aviation often is a trait among pilots, of course, but the take charge, Type A personality seems more prevalent.

Thats a good thing when it comes to understanding the need for training and preparedness; its a bad thing when we think we dont need any outside assistance or when we choose to ignore the myriad information resources available to us. Its also a bad thing when we choose to ignore what should be obvious warning signs and press on into deteriorating weather.

In the early years of commercial aviation, the lone pilot shepherding his or her flock of passengers across the country took on mythical proportion. Later, professionalism crept in, replacing “seat of the pants” flying with hard data. Soon, multiple pilots were added to the flight deck, becoming a crew, despite what some of the more hardened pilots may have wanted.

Even then, however, the captain often ruled his roost, stifling dissent and on more than a few occasions leading his crew into situations from which they could not recover.

Nowadays, of course, understanding and implementing cockpit resource management, and learning to work with another pilot as a crew, is a requirement for any professional pilot expecting to hold a job for very long.

At the lighter end of general aviation, many of these concepts have trickled down, even when an aircraft is flown by a lone pilot. He or she draws on a vastly superior array of pre-flight information, has abundant choices among in-flight resources and compares notes with a chief pilot at the end of the day.

By contrast, the typical pilot of a personal aircraft has fewer resources from which to glean information and wisdom. A quick call to Flight Service often is the extent of any outside input into our plans and decisions before taking off, with perhaps an airborne update or discussion with ATC to supplement.

Too often, however, we find general aviation pilots-perhaps trying to keep alive early traditions, if not themselves-refusing the information and support available to them from other sources. And too often we read about what they did wrong, what they overlooked and what they could have done differently.


On October 9, 2005, at about 1945 Eastern time, a Cessna 172RG flown by a 400-something-hour non-instrument-rated private pilot was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Union City, Ohio. The flight, en route to Lexington, Ky., from Coldwater, Mich., was operating in instrument conditions without a flight plan. The solo pilot was fatally injured.

About 30 minutes before the accident, the pilot contacted the Muncie, Ind., air traffic control tower (ATCT), seeking assistance. After several exchanges made more difficult by the airplanes low altitude and distance, the pilot was able to orient himself some 37 nm from Muncie at 2600 feet.

Several minutes later, the pilot again called the Muncie ATCT, stating he was 28.6 nm out and adding, “Ah, Im in trouble here.” The Muncie tower gave the pilot a frequency for the Ft. Wayne (Ind.) Approach Control, but there is no record of the pilot attempting to contact those controllers. Shortly thereafter, the airplane crashed in a harvested agricultural field.

According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, sunset at the accident site occurred some 38 minutes before the accident. Weather reports within 41 nm of the accident site included ceilings ranging from 700 feet overcast to 3000 feet overcast, with visibilities varying from two statute miles to 10 sm.


All major airframe components and flight control surfaces were identified at the accident site. The right wing was located the farthest from the initial impact point (272 feet). The forward portion of the pitot tube and a red lens material consistent with the left navigation light lens were found within the initial impact ground scar.

The fuselage was fragmented and burned from the firewall aft to the tail surfaces. The horizontal and vertical tail surfaces remained attached to the fuselage. The left wing was located within the main wreckage and exhibited significant crushing and fire damage. Both propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratching with one blade exhibiting S-shaped bending along its length and leading edge gouges. The other blade exhibited a slight forward bend and leading edge abrasion. There was no evidence of the vacuum pump malfunctioning before impact, and the directional gyro had evidence of rotational scoring on both its core and housing. The landing gear selector was found in the up position.

The aircraft owner had been aboard the airplane earlier the same day. He indicated the accident pilot had not received a weather briefing prior to an earlier flight, and that the accident pilot did not use in-flight weather and radar services. There were no records at a Flight Service Station (FSS) or Direct User Access Terminal System (DUATS) vendor of a flight plan or weather briefing related to the accident airplane.

Probable Cause

The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to include the “pilots failure to perform a preflight weather evaluation which led to his inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions and his spatial disorientation. The low ceilings and the dark night were contributing factors.”

Given the facts, the NTSB was absolutely correct. Unfortunately, no one investigated why the pilot apparently refused the various in-flight services available to him and all pilots, choosing instead to “go it alone” into deteriorating weather and darkness. Also unknown is why this pilot chose to forge ahead into poor, nighttime weather. The NTSB report is silent on whether he had important business at his destination.

From the airplane owner we learned the pilot apparently had what well consider a strong case of individualism. In this instance, we use the term to describe an outlook stressing independence and self-reliance. While we would be among the last to suggest an individuals choice of actions should be limited, that doesnt mean the same individual should not avail himself of pre- and in-flight information designed to help decide among those choices. By choosing to ignore the various resources available to him, the accident pilot chose poorly.


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