Lost, But Not Lost

I was sure either the power would die or the wings would fall off.


During my training, I quickly realized that the majority of flight training involved what to do in emergencies. I quickly caught on. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding engine-outs, snow blizzards, bird strikes, short field problems and so on. A few months after passing my checkride, I realized I was afraid to leave my home airport and paranoid of flying outside visual sight of any object that could lead me back home.

I knew I had to conquer my fears and decided that a trip from Atlantic City, N.J., to Key West would force me to become a real pilot and do the kind of flying Id always dreamed of doing. With an instructor and a student pilot friend, we set off. The plan was to drop the instructor off in Melbourne, Fla., continue to Key West with my friend, and then fly home alone.

Leaving Melbourne was easy and we headed south. Miami Approach was very busy and vectored us around Miami on a looping route over the Everglades at 1,000 feet. It made me a little nervous to be looking at all the swamps with no place to land should the engine decide to quit.

My student pilot friend was doing the navigational work using a brand new Garmin 296 and map. When we arrived at a large body of water I was told it was a lake. I doubted that and thought it was the Gulf of Mexico. She repeatedly pointed to a large lake on the map and said, Nope. We are right here.

Finally we concluded that the water was, indeed, the Gulf. Even with plenty of gas I wasnt about to head out over the open water to Key West. I had been planning to follow the various Keys. I felt panic start to rise as I pondered the next move.

We consulted the map and finally settled on heading to Homestead, Fla., to regroup. During the trip there, every engine noise and burble of wind was amplified to the point that I was sure either the power would die or the wings would fall off. It was just a matter of which would happen first.

When we reached the area of Homestead, both the GPS and the Loran said we were right over the airport, yet neither of us could spot it. We circled for 10 minutes but couldnt find the airport.

My hands began to shake and my breath came in pants. I began to feel like I was not in control and would end up making a forced landing.

To distract myself, I forced myself to read the checklist out loud. That calmed me down enough that I realized I was not lost, I had more than an hour of fuel and the airport was within three miles.

I banked the airplane to look for a forced landing spot should the hunt for the airport prove fruitless, and there it was, directly below us.

We landed, refueled and re-plotted the course to Key West. We took off and completed the trip as planned. A few days later, I made it back to Atlantic City without a problem.

Had I given in to panic, I would have made the accident files. I was feeling hopelessness, fear, frustration, doubts and the feeling that all was lost. That could easily lead to a final, defeating self-fulfilling prophecy of Im going to die overwhelming the training and mental discipline that comes with a pilot certificate. Its easy now for me to understand how the mind can just surrender – and lead to tragedy.

Other lessons to consider: A circuitous routing can make it easier to lose your place unless you use careful pilotage, which is difficult in the featureless Everglades. Your option of heading for a nearby airport was a good one. You could also have called up the last controller giving you flight following and ask for help, or dialed up a different airport to help you get your bearings. We also think the fact that the handheld GPS was new may have worked to your disadvantage. By using the various map scales, you could have pinpointed the fact that you were over the airport before panic had the opportunity to set in.


No Brakes, or Are There?
I was the new owner of a Piper Malibu that had several hundred hours in my former high-performance single. I was IFR rated and had passed my initial Malibu training with excellent marks. On this day, with ceiling and visibility unlimited, I planned to make some takeoffs and landings and then, with an experienced Malibu pilot aboard as a safety pilot, shoot some simulated instrument approaches.

My first landing was a touch and go and I intended to make the next one a full stop. I touched down on the centerline of the 5,000- by 75-foot runway in complete control, but when I touched the brakes the airplane turned left and departed the pavement. There was a grass runway parallel to the paved runway, and at this point the safety pilot attempted to straighten the airplane by applying full right rudder and brake.

This put the airplane straight, but wouldnt correct the path back on to the paved runway. The airplanes momentum made us slide into a ditch.

In reviewing the tire skid marks, it was clear the left wheel had been sliding the entire way and the right wheel started to slide on the grass.

A little more consideration and we concluded this: The Malibus brake pedals are mounted in such a way that its possible to place a foot off center and step on the attaching bracket rather than the pedal.

When I veered off the runway, I must have had my left foot on the brake but my right foot on the bracket. I froze in that position and did not release left brake. The skid marks clearly showed the left wheel locked up early, while the right wheel did not start skidding until the safety pilot took control.

Other lessons to consider: This is one reason why low time in type is such a hazardous time. Checking out in new models involves learning the POH and avionics, but it also requires cockpit familiarity. Take some time just sitting in the airplane with the engine off, getting the feel for control placement.


ATC Working Overtime
Like many pilots I rely on the airport directory published by AOPA for airport information. During a recent departure from an unfamiliar class D airport I encountered a situation that will change my use of this directory.

According to the directory, the tower closes at 2000 local time. The following incident occurred at about 2030 local time. After startup, I looked toward the tower and it appeared dark. I switched to the tower frequency, which serves as the CTAF when the tower is closed, and began to taxi to the active runway.

I had moved about 100 feet when I heard an airplane in the pattern call the tower. I was thinking, there is an unprepared pilot who obviously does not know the tower is closed. To my surprise, the tower responded.

Immediately I knew I was taxiing without a clearance. I called ground control, confessed my error and everything was fine. The lesson learned is that while some of the secondary market products available for pilots may be more convenient, only the FAA-published Airport/Facility Directories are regularly updated and reflect recent changes.

More thoroughly consulting the Notams and verifying control tower information on the margin of the sectional chart would also have prevented my error.

Other lessons to consider: Were glad Ground forgave your error, and realistically there arent many airports where taxiing 100 feet without a clearance represents a significant hazard. That said, youre right about trusting private-market publications for official flight information. Wed extend that as well to official publications, which occasionally contain errors of various severity.

Trust, but verify to the extent possible. In this case, simply making a habit of calling your taxi at uncontrolled airports would have obviated the taxiing without a clearance offense.

Were also both amused and impressed with your smugness about the other pilots perceived error. Amused because weve all been there. Impressed because you admitted it.


Water, Water Everywhere
I landed in Goshen, Ind., for fuel and an overnight stop. The next day, we departed and were climbing out on our trip home when my 7-year-old daughter in the back seat said, Daddy, theres water running off of the right wing.

Check six, and I discovered theres also water running off the left wing.

I declared an emergency over the common frequency and landed. I taxiied back to the FBO and checked out the problem.

Total flight time: 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Total fuel used: 24.9 gallons.

It turnes out the ramp worker was totally unfamiliar with the operation of the paddle-type fuel caps on my 1963 Cessna 182 and had not secured them properly. The stupid pilot didnt check the caps during the preflight inspection. The FBO flatly refused any kind of compensation.

This could have been a disaster. Thank goodness for observant 7-year-olds.

Other lessons to consider: This kind of incident is pretty common, particularly involving high-wing airplanes. We suggest being present during ground servicing whenever possible. This helps ensure ground handlers are aware of any limitations of your airplane. In addition, weve found it helps dismiss the notion that a gallon spilled is a gallon sold.


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