Aviation Safety Corner
GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to continue discussing, "Cocktails & Cockpit".
Flying while intoxicated doesn't happen often, but when it does the results are usually tragic. A single DWI may
point to trouble ahead in airplanes. This is Part II of IV.
Let's begin our discussion with, "Welcome to Reality". Five accidents we classified as drunken pilots trying to function normally, although the alcohol may have made it more difficult to make appropriate judgments. These don't necessarily happen late at night or after a few hours of bar-hopping. In fact, they tended to occur during the day, often when the pilot was working.
There didn't appear to be any measure of buzzing or showing off or joyriding, but in other respects they tend to be similar to the skill impairment accidents outlined earlier.
They include the pilot at a ranch who was helping riders on the ground round up stray cattle. He flew the airplane into a cliff after encountering downdrafts. It was 9:30 in the morning and the pilot had not been partying. However, his driving record included several DUIs and he had not gotten a medical or annualed the airplane in more than five years. An associate said he treated his airplane like he did his tractors.
Another accident involved a pilot who supplied charter flights to a local business on occasion. On one occasion, he took off with the deice equipment inoperative on one engine and entered icing conditions. The airplane crashed, killing all three aboard.
Now, Let's Discuss, I'll Do It My Way". Another category of accidents can only be described as irresponsibility or perhaps even more flagrant irresponsibility than the pilots in the other categories. Here's where some of the seven accidents got weird.
A couple of pilots embarked on low-level aerobatics while intoxicated. One accident involved a pilot who license had been revoked seven years earlier for stealing an airplane. He and a friend stole another one and overran the runway trying to take off. Seems the airplane they appropriated was being refurbished and was missing its elevator.
One pilot crashed his airplane off the end of the runway. A sheriff's deputy saw the crash and went to the scene to render aid. The man at the wreckage claimed it was his airplane, that it had been stolen, and he was investigating where it had crashed. The deputy gave him a ride back to the hanger. The pilot got his truck to tow the crashed airplane out of the swamp, but on the way to the airplane he was arrested for DUI by another deputy.
Sometimes a drunk pilot meant a drunk passenger. In two cases the passenger passed out, jamming the controls and inducing the pilot to lose control.
But perhaps the worst drunk passenger is the kind who, as the drunk pilot completed the landing roll, and started turning off the runway, shouted, "Let's do it again!" and firewalled the throttles for another takeoff.
If you're counting that leaves two of the accidents unclassified. They need their own classification, with an asterisk. Both involved suicidal pilots. Both left notes. One was a young adult, drunk and despondent about his future. The other was a convicted arsonist who was about to be arrested again for arson. He'd had several DUIs and, at the time of the accident, had also ingested cocaine and Valium.
These two tragic events are not aviation accidents so much as individuals crashing against an impossible reality. If not an airplane, they would have used something else; they just happened to have access to wings.
Now, In Conclusion, Remember, Skill impairment accidents are those in which the pilot appears to be trying to fly responsibly (if that can be done while intoxicated), but just isn't up to the task. We'd equate this roughly with driving home slowly and carefully after imbibing a few too many at a party.
Don't miss next month's Aviation Safety Corner, when we'll discuss, "The Regulatory Approach". This will be Part III of IV.
Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor