A pilot and two passengers in a Cessna 182 died when the aircraft crashed after striking a cable tethering an unlit government surveillance blimp near Key West on April 21. The blimp was surrounded by a small restricted area, R-2916.
According to an FAA preliminary accident report, the aircraft had departed Key West and was en route to Leesburg, Florida, with an IFR flight plan on file. Local weather conditions at the time were reported VFR with clear skies and 10 miles visibility. Early reports indicate that the pilot had contacted ATC for his IFR clearance but had not yet been radar identified and thus was responsible for staying clear of restricted airspace and obstacles.
The VFR Miami sectional chart and IFR low-altitude en route chart L-19 both depict R-2916 with a cautionary note about the unmarked balloon and cable extending up to 14,000 feet msl.
"Restricted areas, when hot, have activity or obstacles that can be hazardous to aircraft," said Bruce Landsberg, AOPA Air Safety Foundation executive director. "On a VFR flight, it's up to the pilot to determine if the area is hot. Under IFR, ATC bears that responsibility. Although this accident is in the preliminary stages of investigation, it is a solemn reminder to be certain about airspace status and to verify it if there is any doubt, regardless of whether you're VFR or IFR."
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation offers numerous resources on special-use airspace, including restricted areas. Learn about the hazards associated with these areas and how to avoid them in the Safety Hot Spot: Critical Airspace and Know Before You Go online course.
April 26, 2007