Sunday, December 7, 2008

Plane crash over Florida - 4 pilots not coming home

There was a plane crash in South Florida Saturday. A 1979 Piper Seminole, owned by the flight school I trained and instructed at, collided with a Cessna Skyhawk over an area used for flight training practice. After the planes failed to return Saturday night a search was put out and the wreckage was found Sunday morning.

Flight training is mostly done without talking to Air Traffic Control. The training is done using VFR (Visual Flight Rules) which means they use a "see and avoid" method to stay away from other aircraft. There is no way Air Traffic Control could reasonably manage flight training activities. Many times a common radio frequency is used for a practice area and pilots announce where they are and what they are doing. This is totally voluntary.

When I was flight instructing the other instructors at my school would almost always announce where they were and what they were doing over a certain frequency. Typically I would announce I was performing maneuvers over the small town of Hillsboro, TX between 4500 feet and 5500 feet. Another pilot would announce they are working over Lake Alvarado at 3000 feet and so on. There could be 10 planes all within a somewhat small area.

While teaching a pilot to fly I would keep a constant eye outside to look for traffic. Even small planes fly at 100 MPH. A piece of sky can be clear one minute...and have a plane in it the next.

I had a few close calls. Mostly near airports though. Small airports have no control towers and pilots are supposed to announce where they are. Not all pilots do this or if they do many foreigners are training in the United States and do not have a clear understanding of English. The closest I ever got to hitting another plane was probably 200 feet away as they came from behind me and crossed overhead.

Planes crash everyday...but this one hits me a little harder. The crash involved a plane from my flight school. I checked the tail number, N118TP, to see if it was in my logbook. Although I flew many Piper Seminoles, I did not fly that one. Two flight instructors and two students (not confirmed statuses...but given the area it's likely) won't be coming home tonight. They flew west. For those that don't know what flying west it's an aviation term for when a pilot dies...regardless of the cause.

Flying West

I hope there's a place, way up in the sky,
Where pilots can go, when they have to die-
A place where a guy can go and buy a cold beer
For a friend and comrade, whose memory is dear;
A place where no doctor or lawyer can tread,
Nor management type would ere be caught dead;
Just a quaint little place, kinda dark and full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke;
The kind of place where a lady could go
And feel safe and protected, by the men she would know.

There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their paining is finished, and their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And the songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you'd see all the fellows who'd flown west before.
And they'd call out your name, as you came through the door;
Who would buy you a drink if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, "He was quite a good lad!"

And then through the mist, you'd spot an old guy
You had not seen for years, though he taught you how to fly.
He'd nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
And say, "Welcome, my son, I'm pleased that you're here.
"For this is the place where true flyers come,
"When the journey is over, and the war has been won
"They've come here to at last to be safe and alone
From the government clerk and the management clone,
"Politicians and lawyers, the Feds and the noise
Where the hours are happy, and these good ol'boys
"Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest;
"This is Heaven, my son -- you've passed your last test!"

Author: Capt. Michael J. Larkin
Dedicated to: Capt. E. Hamilton Lee

1 comment:

  1. It hit me as well, I did fly this plane. About a month ago a fellow student and I flew it to Stuart on our "cross countries".

    I'm currently in CFI school and I believe all of us had flown it at one point or another.

    Our instructor is flying out to assist in the investigation of what happened.

    It's a sad day for us, as I'm sure it is for the friends and family of the crew in the other plane.