A Meaningless Tabula Rasa After 25 Years Around Aviation
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. ~ Mark Twain
"Baker pleads with his forums members to think SAFETY this year"
No, you don't have to like me to read the following with a open mind... but allow me to annoy you for a while.
25 Years in aviation last year, with the number of (personally known to me) lost airmen and women exceeding the number of years in the industry.
I think I actively started to loosely count aviation accidents that would remove people from my surroundings in the very early 90's when a Airline Captain/ Flight Instructor in our small club landed a delta-wing in the trees. He had learned to fly SEL from my Grandfather in the 60's and I remember being confused during the funeral, as the priest eloquently pointed out that Jörg had "died doing something that he loved". It made no sense to me... I was a kid, more or less.
No question, flying delta wings must be some fun. You run down a hill or ramp, feel the lift generating and eventually dare to pull your feet up into the body bag that closely resembles a half a sleeping bag. Thermals will send you soaring amongst the birds, with nothing separating you from the elements, no stink, no gas to burn, just you, some linen and a bunch of aluminum sticks. The gift of flight. How cool that a bunch of nuts jumped from barns and broke their bones 100+ years ago just so that we can enjoy the benefits of aerodynamics, today. Thank you!
Now, Jörg had become a highly experienced airline captain who had pretty much touched every single branch of aviation in some form or another. Flying big iron for a living, he was highly regarded as an instructor and check airman, aerobatics instructor, parachute jumper, tow pilot, seaplanes, model aviator, heck, his life revolved around aviation and flying. He was a safety nut, very heavy on checklists, a systems person who could streamline a students life into second gear.
Jörg died on the way to the hospital - mangled up after a hard crash into some hard trees, no buffer zone around his body and a resulting fall from some 60+ feet. I know you didn't think Germany had trees that tall. Jörg was the first person who's aviation induced death I firmly remember, because I had laughed with him. He taught me to fly backwards in a Cessna 150 and we loved it because we were laughing. He taught me to fly a Lomchovak and loved it because we were laughing. He could make lessons fun. I have my doubts that he laughed while dying on the way to the hospital. The screw-up that did him in was a simple, stupid one - really - a rookie mistake.
Second in line came Michael a young glider & motorglider pilot who was a instructor for gliders and motor gliders. Very successful in getting ready to take over his dads retail business flying for the fun of it. I took many lessons from him at the tender age of 14 and 15 and even though he was young (maybe 20/21 at the time) I looked up to him as an idol and example. One day he took a Grob G109 (with a student in it) to altitude for stall and spin avoidance training. The right wing snapped off in ~ 7000 feet AGL and the aircraft impacted so hard that most of it either dug in or dispersed. As you know, objects producing lift do not fall at the normal 9.81m/s², so for a long time people wondered how much time they had to deny, get angry, bargain, get depressed about and finally accept their fate. It was later found out that the aircraft had been bumped into a hangar door with the wing-tip. Those are some long wings and this spells a lot of arm and moment. Our club changed the rules about maneuvering aircraft on the ground and inside of hangars after that - a instructor or approved aircraft maneuvering person had to be present and nobody was allowed to maneuver airplanes without a second person present. Damage (however light and meaningless) was greatly reduced and at least during pushing the airplanes around in the hangars we knew that nothing bad had happened. Whatever resembles the wing-spar on those motor-gliders had a crack. Hence when the aircraft recovered close to the yellow arc - the wing went on its own merry way.
I remember Michaels dad crying and complaining that "its not supposed to be this way - parents go before their children". I also got my first glimpse at grief based parental shrinkage. People who loose their children do shrink, they walk less tall, they never look the same and their smiles change when they finally smile again, many years after loosing a child.
Repeatedly, I heard the comforting "at least he died doing what he loved" phrase, which apparently eases the grief for people. A swing & listen test on the wing could have revealed a lack of structural integrity rattling that motor gliders wing would have produced a crunching sound, from the crack in the spar. I say could have - but it was never done, so nobody knows for sure. The aircraft never exceeded its structural limits, except for in this tiny spot where its structural integrity was compromised.
Each one of the ~ 30 characters I've seen depart this way comes with a story of some sort. Each one of them left a mark, many left a void.
I'll spare you the grim and depressing details. Fiery holes in the ground, towers hit, flipped seaplanes, structural failures, getting stuck during egress, parachutes, gliders, balloons, caught by powerlines, engine failures, controlled flight into terrain, severe turbulence resulting in structural failure, wind, weather related accidents, spins, moose stalls, aqua-planning after a tailwind landing, aerobatics going sideways - tons of stories and faces. Too many stories and faces, too many to smile about. A few days ago a guy barely older than me would have celebrated his 44th birthday, many knew him as one of our sponsors and big supporters, Kevin. He's been gone for a while now and I am still struggling with his death.
Could Have - Should Have - Would Have
It is my opinion that only 5% of accidents are a matter of fate. In other words, they would not have happened if ___________ (fill in the blank) vs. they would have happened this way or another for no other reason than that someone somewhere yelled "DING!" and your time was up. There's all this talk about how we all control our own destiny and how we ought to have more control in our lives. We do. We have been taught to analyze risk, we've been taught to be paranoid, we've been taught to do proper preflight checks, we've been taught all these things. Lets do them. Lets think and evaluate our missions, lets check our airplanes, lets skip a flight in marginal conditions and exchange it for a flight when we won't hesitate to take a completely innocent 10 year old with us.
Why on gods green earth would Jason post this?
Well, my friends, because a new year has begun. A new chapter in our accident counting book has been started. We will read of accidental gear down mishaps killing seaplane pilots, like we do every year. We will read about completely mysterious weather related accidents killing people we respected, sometimes even liked, like we do every year. We can't know who's next, but we do know that we can commit to doing our part in staying out of the statistics and accident reports. Part of this is to remind ourselves that we are not invincible, we haven't seen it all and we're one simple mistake away from screwing up, like everyone else.