Monday, February 18, 2008

RV-6 crash kills two women in Washington state

This has really been a bad, say, 12 months for homebuilt airplanes; they seem to be crashing at an alarming rate, although I admit my evidence is purely anecdotal.

The latest to go down was an RV-6 in Washington state this weekend, piloted by Ann Price.

What scares most pilots -- on those rare occasions when pilots will step out of that "I'm a pilot. I'm a tough guy" facade, is when good pilots are the ones killed.

This article suggests that Ann Price was a very good pilot.

Over on Van's Air Force, an outstanding RV site but one that can occasionally get overmoderated by virtue of the lack of distinction between what is "offensive" and what is merely "uncomfortable," there was a suggestion that she did a poor job of making an emergency landing, because she was talking to her husband (also flying nearby) as her engine was sputtering. I don't agree on the basis of the scant information. Communication of intention is part of any emergency landing checklist, and since there was no fire, there's certainly no indication she didn't shut down all electrical equipment and close fuel lines once she was near landing, just as we are all taught to do.

But I think the post was an invitation to look at the facts, not of the crash per se, but of the factors involved in any emergency landing, that make them so challenging and reduce the outcome almost to sheer luck.

This is a difficult time of the year, especially when landing in a field. Planted fields are pretty rugged and frozen and it doesn't take much to hit the equivalent of a cinder block, no matter how much training you've had. And in an RV, that's an instant nose-over.

Crashes and emergency landings are survivable only if there is sufficient stopping distance to dissipate energy that otherwise is going to be absorbed by the spine and neck. As the Dale Earnhardt crash taught us, it doesn't have to look bad to be lethal.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Ann was a much, much better pilot than me. I hope we can at least learn something from her tragic and untimely end.

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