It is often said that doctors have a god complex. There are those who believe or at least act as though they are more powerful than God. Put such a person behind the yoke of an aircraft and people will get hurt.
Yesterday, another doctor-pilot died unnecessarily and he took four innocent people with him. Even though the news is sketchy, a few details are clear. First, the weather was not VFR...or even close. Here are the METARs for the morning of the accident.
KTUL 051753Z 36006KT 10SM BKN016 26/20 A3009 RMK AO2 SLP181 T02560200 10256 20194 58004
KTUL 051730Z VRB04KT 10SM BKN016 26/19 A3009 RMK AO2
KTUL 051653Z 35005KT 6SM HZ OVC010 23/19 A3010 RMK AO2 SLP185 T02330189
KTUL 051639Z 02004KT 6SM HZ OVC010 23/19 A3011 RMK AO2 CIG 008V014
KTUL 051553Z 02004KT 4SM HZ OVC006 22/19 A3011 RMK AO2 SLP190 T02170189
KTUL 051526Z 06005KT 4SM BR OVC005 21/18 A3011 RMK AO2
KTUL 051453Z 05005KT 2 1/2SM BR OVC004 21/18 A3010 RMK AO2 SLP186 T02060183 51021
KTUL 051353Z 05007KT 2 1/2SM BR OVC003 20/18 A3008 RMK AO2 SLP180 T02000183
KTUL 051321Z 06003KT 2SM BR OVC003 20/19 A3007 RMK AO2
KTUL 051253Z 01004KT 1SM BR OVC003 20/19 A3006 RMK AO2 SLP172 T02000189
KTUL 051233Z 02004KT 1 1/2SM BR OVC003 20/19 A3005 RMK AO2
KTUL 051216Z 02004KT 2SM BR OVC003 20/18 A3004 RMK AO2
KTUL 051153Z 01004KT 3SM BR OVC003 19/18 A3004 RMK AO2 SLP164 60002 70026 T01940183 10217 20194 53006
KTUL 051125Z 34004KT 5SM BR BKN003 BKN050 19/18 A3002 RMK AO2
The crash occured when the aircraft collided with the guy wires supporting a tower that stood approximately 200 feet tall. The article described the weather as foggy which is supported by the METARs for the Tulsa airport that was nearby.
Note that the tower was ONLY 200 feet tall. The aircraft had to be flying dangerously and illegally low to the ground in order to strike a tower 200 feet tall. The FARs require us to fly at least 1000' above obstacles that are within 2000' horizontally if we are flying in a congested area. The plane crashed near a ball park and one can argue that this was a congested area.
So why was the pilot flying so low? Looking at the METARs, one might conclude that he wanted to avoid flying in to low clouds. He was flying in conditions that were below VFR minimums...and not very good for IFR, either. So why wouldn't this pilot whose pilot certificate was issued in 1987 simply penetrate the clouds and fly IFR? Simple, he did not have an instrument rating and had absolutely no business flying in the conditions that he found himself in.
Looking at the METARs, this isn't a case of VFR flight into instrument conditions. It appears that he departed in IFR or at best marginal VFR conditions. He was flying in fog and flying too low when he should have kept his plane in the hanger. To make matters worse, his actions resulted in four additional deaths.
So, if you are not instrument rated, stay out of the clouds. If you are not in the system flying on an instrument flight plan, STAY OUT OF THE CLOUDS. If you happen to stray, watch your instruments. Keep the wings level. Maintain your altitude. Communicate with ATC - they can't keep you from hitting other planes if you aren't talking with them. Better yet, GET YOUR INSTRUMENT RATING!
This reminds me of something that happened last Saturday. There was a nice overcast that was reported to be around 1500 feet all over the Jacksonville area. I had decided to do some basic flight work to keep my skills up. I stayed in the pattern doing touch-and-goes on runway 23 for a while before departing the pattern to the South. I flew along highway 9a at 1100 feet noting the broken ceiling above me. It appeared to be about 500 to 800 feet above my altitude. This were good conditions for single pilot IFR practice, so I called ATC and asked for a clearance to fly the ILS 32 at Craig. I climbed into the clouds to 1900 feet as instructed and was vectored to the East to intercept the localizer. Once established on the approach, I followed the pink diamond down lower and lower. I also kept an eye on the eastbound aircraft that was flying at about 1500 feet - just beneath the clouds. This plane was not in contact with ATC and he was flying much too close to the clouds to be in compliance with the FARs. I don't know if he had a TIS on board, but I'm glad that I did. He was operating just outside the CRG airspace and the controllers didn't have contact. What would have happened if I popped out of the clouds on my LEGAL IFR flight into the path of his illegal VFR flight? Or what if he had appeared directly in front of me when I popped out of the clouds? I continued my descent on the glideslope and was cleared for a straight in to 32. The other plane passed above me and behind me.
The lesson here is just because you aren't entering the clouds doesn't mean you are flying VFR. 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, 2000 feet laterally - those are the requirements. We weren't operating in Class B where clear of clouds is the rule. The FARs were generally written in response to some unfortunate incident - they make good sense. If you aren't flying on an IFR flight plane, please follow the Visual Flight Rules. The life you save could be mine.