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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

There's not place like home, but...

Poor judgment combined with a strong desire to get home can be deadly. The pilot of a Piper Tri-Pacer proved this point when he died trying to get home in bad weather.

On January 15, 2001, the pilot departed early for a flight to Lawrence, Massachusetts. En route, he was forced to land at the Norwood airport because of snow and poor weather conditions.

At 10 a.m. local time, the pilot called his wife and told her that he was waiting for a rental car to arrive so that he could drive home. He placed a second call at 2:30 p.m., telling his wife he was still waiting for the rental car. During that call they discussed the possibility of renting a hotel room for the evening.

At 4:12 p.m., the pilot contacted ATC, requesting a special VFR (SVFR) departure to the southwest. According to the controller, the cloud ceiling at the time was 400 feet overcast, and he also noticed that up to two inches of slush and snow had accumulated on the pilot's airplane. The controller advised the pilot of the low ceiling and wing contamination and denied the SVFR request.

Despite what the controller told him, the pilot departed to the southwest without a clearance. The last known radio transmission was the pilot reporting he was clear of the Class D airspace. Numerous witnesses in the area observed a low-flying airplane, and one saw it strike a power line. The pilot's body was recovered from Buzzards Bay in May 2001, but the airplane has not been found.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's decision to take off and attempt VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions. The pilot had accumulated more than 15,000 hours of flight time when the accident occurred. He held an instrument rating and a flight instructor certificate.

Decision making is an integral part of every pilot's preflight. This pilot chose to depart--the better choice was to stay on the ground. For more information on how to make better decisions, attend the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's newest safety seminar, Do the Right Thing--Decision Making for Pilots. This seminar takes direct aim at poor pilot judgment, the root cause of many--if not most--general aviation accidents. For more information and to view a schedule of upcoming seminars, see AOPA Online.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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