Snow go? Instructor makes judgment call
NTSB CHI01LA054 - On the morning of December 27, 2000, a Cessna 152 suffered substantial damage when a low-time student pilot made a precautionary landing in snow. The 15-hour student, who reportedly had just one hour of PIC flight time and was alone in N757DX, was not injured.
VFR weather conditions were reported at two nearby airports about the time of the accident, with ceilings of 2,600 feet and light snow at both, and visibility of four miles at one and two miles at the other.
In a written statement, the student pilot told NTSB investigators that the flight began as a dual instruction with "...2-3 takeoffs and landings, together." He stated that it was snowing lightly when his instructor then told him to, "... take off, fly around for a while and land again."
As the snowfall became heavier, the student decided to return to the airport, but noticed his airspeed was only 50 knots. He added carburetor heat and lowered the nose, but the airspeed indication did not increase.
According to the NTSB report, the student tried to radio his instructor for advice but could not hear the instructor. Finally, communication was established, and the instructor suggested the student land at a nearby airport, but the student wasn't familiar with that airport. "All this time the airspeed kept dropping and I was concerned about a stall," the student said. "The airspeed became so low (30-35 KIAS) I decided to land in a field ... I believe this was a hayfield and was snow covered [approximately] 10-14 inches. ... When the wheels touched ground it went for a short distance and flipped over nose first."
The pilot said that after the accident, his instructor came to the accident site and told him that the pitot tube was "plugged up" apparently causing the low airspeed indication.
The pilot later said that two days after the accident his flight instructor asked him to complete his pre-solo written examination.
The decision to allow a student to solo is a judgment call for the instructor. Each instructor must set his or her own limits for weather minima and student experience. Once those limits are determined, it is up to the CFI to maintain them.
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