Even pilot training done well won’t prepare us for the most unexpected
A pilot friend was about 100 feet in the air on a beautiful, sunny day when his seat rolled back on the tracks during takeoff. His Cessna 172 nosed up, stalled, and hit the ground in a near-vertical attitude. He was a great pilot with a lot of experience, but unfortunately, he was also proof that pilot training can’t prepare us for every scenario.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback when reading an accident report or watching a video of a crash. Case-and-point, a recent high-profile accident looks a lot like what happened to my friend. Many people are wondering what happened to Dale Snodgrass on takeoff at the Lewiston Airport in Idaho.
The disturbing video shows a normal takeoff but then seconds later, a rapid pitch-up, stall, and near-vertical impact. Did Dale’s seat slide back? Was there a load shift? Did a mechanic leave a tool somewhere that moved and lodged between the control cables? The official accident report will be released in due time. Still, until then, we will all wonder what happened to this exceptional pilot – so impressive that he was famously known as the original Top Gun pilot.
We do know that none of us are immune from the risks of flying. None of us know what the next takeoff will bring. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands in the air and say it’s all out of our control. Most of it is in our control. We can do checklists before every takeoff and landing. We can make sure we are physically fit to fly. We can maintain our aircraft professionally and meticulously. We can follow the regulations and pay attention to the weather throughout our flights.
Most of all, we can take pilot training seriously. Study. Memorize emergency procedures. Review weight and balance and performance problems. Be prepared for sim sessions. We can’t train for every eventuality, but we can do everything in our power to make sure we are ready to the best of our abilities. So in honor of Dale and other pilots who have experienced similar situations, let’s take our safety seriously.