Sunday, November 10, 2013

Breaking The Chain

While surfing through the Pilots of America forum I stumbled on a great post.  Ted D got this one started following a post about a PA32 crash near IRK.

The discussion came up that, as pilots, we should talk more about experiences when we broke the accident chain. I thought it would be best in the "Lessons Learned" section since some people might be more comfortable posting anonymously.

Too often, we read about NTSB reports and talk about what we would have done differently. However, that's looking at a situation where the worst has happened. The reality is, that could happen to any of us. While there are varying causes, I suspect that part of it is a typical unwillingness by pilots to deviate from a plan because we tend to want to stick to our plan. After all, the chances are that it will be fine. This part is true. But we also know that very few people in NTSB reports got into a plane with the intent of crashing, which means they were in the same shoes we are. I think if we talk more openly about how we have broken the accident chain, maybe that will keep it more in everyone's minds. So I'll start with a couple of experiences, interestingly on the same trip.

I added my "Break the Chain" experience to the forum post. 

My flight was a quick turn and burn, Wilmington (KILG) to first flight (KFFA), just under 500 miles round trip. I wanted some flight time and my friend who will fly my plane on occasion wanted to meet up with family on vacation. The plan was to fly down with him and then fly my plane home since he was driving back with them. The flight down was uneventful. We did the intros then I saddled up for home.

This was back in August 2011, when there were TFR's for the fires south of Virginia Beach and north of Elizabeth City, NC. I had enough fuel on board for the round trip and after picking up my clearance I was heading north. This was one of those trips, riding along fat dumb and happy listening to some tunes while working with approach. I even managed a PIREP for Center when they asked about the smoke.

I was checking my times as I headed north dealing with headwinds. I actually used my AP (wing leveler) and ran through my calcs once again. I figured on 10-12 gallons on board when landing at ILG. I would be landing just after sunset and if there were problems I wanted more of a safety factor in the tanks. I used the 496 to look up Georgetown's (KGED) hours and they would be closed for fuel so I advised approach I would be diverting to Salisbury (KSBY)for fuel. Approach asked if it was a fuel emergency or minimum fuel, I responded neither, just being safe. I landed, took on enough to bring me to tabs each tank (30 gallons) and launched for home. I enjoyed a great sunset and a nice landing at ILG.

The potential accident chain:

1) Getting into to my magic hour of fuel.
2) Headwinds greater than planned.
3) My go-to fuel stop was closed.
4) Deciding to roll the dice and just get home (get-there-it is).
5) Potential for fuel exhaustion and turning 08R into a glider at night.

I made the decision with 40 minutes left to get home to break the chain at 4 and divert for fuel. Tempting maybe for some to continue since the preferred fuel stop was closed but that little voice in my head didn't want to be a statistic. (First Flight and Home)

What's your break the chain experience??


Chris said...

Great post, Gary. Especially the part where you break out the risk factors as they began to accumulate. It's that accumulation that can be so insidious.

I've had a few of these instances in my time, too. All it takes is for the phrase "accident chain" to run through my head and I start looking for an alternative plan.

The best advice I ever got on flying is "always have an out". It applies equally well to mountain flying, weather flying, and even making sure there's enough gas in the tank.

D.B. said...

Mine was ferrying my Sundowner from Nashua NH to it's new home in Dallas, after we moved in 2006. We had moved 3 months prior, and I had picked up 49C after a business trip to Boston, which saved money but meant I was rusty.

My plan was to land in Lexington KY for the night, but a late start coupled with strong headwinds meant I was still over the Ohio valley as the sun began to set. I had enough fuel, but being tired, rusty, and attempting to fly into such a busy airport at night that didn't know sounded like just too much. So I diverted and landed in Huntington WV as the sun was setting.

Now I think I have the skills and confidence that I might make a different choice, but back then it was an accident chain in the making, and I recognized it and took action.

Gary said...

Chris, "Always have an out" is the bottom line. Just like staying ahead of the plane in flight we are also staying ahead of the plan. I can still hear my CFI's voice in my head when I really focus on any aspect of my flying.

DB, I think as PIC we are always "running the numbers" fuel, distance, time, it’s what we do. The conservative pilot lives to fly another day. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Unknown said...

Great stuff Gary. Once my youngest son and I were headed to our cabin in the mountains 3.5 hr flight time away. Checked weather early Saturday morning, then then had a few errands to do and ended up leaving 3 hrs later. Didn't recheck weather because it was forecasted clear all day. 1.5 hr into flight there was a ceiling( VFR only pilot at the time). The ceiling kept coming down. We flew another 30 minutes into lowering ceilings. Center said it should be fine. At 1500 agl I said this isn't working and we made a u turn and flew 2 hrs back home. Calculating fuel we were fine and landed home safely. Of course my 5 yr old didn't understand completely, but we have made several more trips since.

Eddie Smith

Gary said...

Ed, Thanks for posting. I always look at it as each of our flights are a learning experience. I try and take something from every flight I make, sort of a review or replay. I also like to fly with others and see what I can incorporate into my routine as far as safety or pilot tasks. Glad to see you're taking advantage of flying to make the run to the cabin!

Steve said...

I remember reading about this on the blog years ago. Or maybe it came up when we were chatting. Regardless, still seems like a perfect - and wise - decision. Thanks for sharing again! :)

Gary said...

Steve, not sure I posted about this but now I'll have to go back and search.

Always good topics on the flying forums that make us think about what we do.