Friday, February 19, 2010

Still Not Understood

Crash I

It was a car that had brought the three men together — a cutting-edge electric sedan that they were racing to finish by next year — but when the time came to get quickly to Southern California, they chose to fly a small, piston-driven airplane that was more than a quarter-century old.

This is how one group of "contributing reporters" from a daily newspaper described the crash of a Cessna 310 into an East Palo Alto neighborhood this week.

Imagine that.

The best and the brightest of the engineering corps at a cutting-edge electric car company being foolish enough to pile into a 25-year-old airplane -- probably knowing full-well about the varicose hydraulic veins, arthritic wing surface controls, and forgetful avionics stack.

Star Wars Car Execs Downed by Jules Verne-era aviation contraption.

Oh, the irony.

Admittedly, when you're a journalist on deadline it's hard to get hold of anyone who knows anything sometimes, least of all a pilot who might cheerfully or not tell you that precious few new light aircraft have been made in the past 25 years, and that the average Cessna, unlike the average Chevrolet, gets regular overhauls and could well be flying safely for another hundred years.

But who needs that kind of perspective when you've got a perfectly good "what were they thinking" story theme going?

Crash II

As it dove out of the sky toward an IRS field office Thursday morning, Joseph Stack's small single-engine Piper Dakota became a screaming 3,000-pound missile.

Another group of contributing reporters, this time in USA Today.

A little less clueless than the elderly airplane lead-in above -- even little airplanes loaded with fuel can deliver a pretty good post-crash fire -- but still a gaudily-sensational description of the kind of devastation that could as easily be wrought by other means. If the goal is death over destruction, a guy with a gym bag full of firearms could out-death the perpetually-slighted Joseph Stack by a wide margin.

Several news organizations additionally believed that Stack's failure to file a flight plan should have tipped someone off to his nefarious purposes on February 18. (Stack, no doubt, would be compelled by FAA regulations to file direct into the local IRS building. No wonder no flight plan).


The investigations of this week's high-profile GA crashes are in their infancy, however the preliminary information from both point to human failings instead of decrepit aircraft and weapons-of-mass-destruction-grade Pipers. In Palo Alto the pilot elected to take off in weather that had grounded airliners in the vicinity, and the Austin tragedy was purposely caused by yet another guy whose self-congratulatory fantasy world was ruined one-too-many times by the real world.

It is probably worthwhile to say ... somewhere on some aviation safety blog ... that light aircraft crashes are nearly always front-page stories about a back-page bad decisions.

None of this will prevent a newspaper from suggesting that heavy fog causes engines to strain (from the same article as the "quarter-century old aircraft").

And the un-filed flight plan will always be highly suspect.


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