Accident Do Happen…My Introduction To Real World Aviation Accidents
I’m writing this post for two reasons.
The first is to let you know that accidents do happen, perhaps more frequently than many people realize. I won’t break down the statistics here as they are constantly being updated, and there are numerous sites on-line that detail aircraft accidents statistics and a quick search will provide you with the most recent information.
The second is to tell you about two accidents that occurred at a company I was working for, within the first six months of my professional career, and how they shaped my future.
I had just started as a flying instructor at a small airfield near Toronto and l had one idea what was just over the horizon. These two events taught me how devastating accidents are to victims, families, friends, colleagues and companies, and the consequences of not being prepared. They also shaped my passion for aviation safety, emergency management, and family assistance, which I still have today, more than 40 years later.
About 2 months after starting, I arrived at the airport early on a cold, foggy morning to find the aircraft and ramp covered in a thin layer of ice from overnight freezing rain. I was the duty pilot that day and it was an easy decision to cancel the morning’s planned flights and wait for the conditions to improve. Shortly after, a man and his three young passengers arrived to take the company’s Cessna 172 out for their scheduled rental. I told the pilot about the icy aircraft and ramp, the fog, low clouds and poor visibility and why that meant all flying was canceled for the morning. I offered to rebook them for a later time but the pilot insisted he be allowed to take the aircraft. He was quite upset with me and demanded to speak to my manager, the Chief Pilot. After they had spoken the Chief Pilot overruled my decision and the four people headed out to the aircraft. I was sitting on the couch reading a flying magazine when I heard the pilot radio on the unicom that he was rolling for take-off on runway 27. The office was near the departure end of the runway and had a large bay window which allowed a great view of aircraft climbing out after take-off. I remember putting down the magazine to watch the aircraft depart and as it came into view it was clear something was very wrong. It was airborne but only at about 30 feet above ground and not climbing. As the aircraft crossed the end of the runway it began to roll left and right before rolling hard to the left and crashing into the frozen field, not far from where I was sitting.
I ran to the scene with a fire extinguisher while the Chief Pilot called emergency services. Fortunately all four people survived but the aircraft was destroyed.
A couple of months later, early on a Monday morning we realized one of the clubs aircraft, a Cessna 152 Aerobat was not on the flight line. The weather was very bad that day and there was no record on the clubs logs of the aircraft being rented. We realized something was wrong and after calling emergency services, began a search. A short time later I ended up at the scene of the accident and unfortunately both individuals had perished.
These were grim lessons on how devastating accidents can be to crew, passengers, family, friends, and to a company.
The reasons for the accidents and the absence of preparedness spoke volumes about the company’s disastrous safety culture. Before they inevitably declared bankruptcy as a result of the accidents, myself and the other two young instructors resigned and moved on to work for Toronto Airways, a much more professional employer. Of course, there is so much more to these accident stories but I won’t get into the details here as they would make this post much too long.
When I joined Toronto Airways I asked the owner if I could be their “Flight Safety Officer”. The owner said “we’ve never had one before but if you’re willing to do it on a voluntary basis and without it interfering with your regular piloting duties I am fine with that.”
That was the beginning of my professional career in aviation and those experiences shaped my life-long commitment to safety and emergency management.
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