In reply to:
Mike, in general I completely agree. (a) Every accident report should convey a sense of humility about this whole enterprise, and the consequences of inattention, and (b) like you, I’m sobered to realize that if so experienced a pilot could forget to climb at the MAP, then obviously I’m even more likely to make the same mistake.
The one part of the scenario that doesn’t give me the “there but for the grace of God” feeling is starting a non-precision approach with real-time reported conditions so far below minimums. (Real-time report was 100 ft overcast, 1.25sm vis. MDA was 498ft AGL) My main benchmark for this came last summer when I was hoping to visit friends on Nantucket. Unlike Catalina, Nantucket (a) has an ILS, with a DH of 200ft AGL, and (b) is virtually flat. But the ATIS as I was coming in was identical to this Catalina report – OVC 001 / 1.25 vis – and I thought, I don’t need to get there that badly. So, with my wife and one son in the plane, we turned around while over the ocean and went instead to Norwood, where the sky was clear and we had some friends nearby.
I think the proper response to almost any crash report is “there but for the grace of God…” But, as a far less experienced flyer than this pilot, I know that in comparable – indeed, more favorable – circumstances I decided not to accept this particular risk. There are many other risks that my lack of experience exposes me to, of course – usually without my comprehending just how exposed I have been. Indeed, with each hundred hours’ experience, I have an increasing “there but for…” feeling about having survived risks I hadn’t fully appreciated in each earlier chapter of the experience-developing process. But I also wonder, in an informal-polling sense, how many Copa pilots think they would have begun the Catalina approach. My personal minimum is not to begin an ILS if the real-time ceiling is below 400ft. (Often in training, and three times in real life, I’ve flown an ILS right down to the absolute minimum and broken out with the runway right in my face. But on my own I’ve not started one with a reported at-minimums celing, fwiw.)
Rambling stream-of-consciousness Alert!
You make your points eloquently, as always. I, too, would not have started an approach that was below minimums – I’ve always called off such approaches in favor of a friendly alternate. However, over time, my own personal minimums have changed and become less conservative. Today, if I’m going into an airport in generally benign conditions (density altitude OK, wind reasonable, non-mountainous, I’m very current, etc.), I’d attempt an ILS if conditions were at or above minimums. I’ve landed perhaps five times that way in the last three years, and gone missed in anger three times.
But it wasn’t always so. My ILS minimums started out much higher, and got more “aggressive” as experience and confidence were built. There lies the rub.
My “There but for the Grace of God go I” feeling has less to do with the specifics of that one pilot’s mistakes than the overall gestalt of what got him there, and may get me there, too, if I don’t balance confidence with enough humility. The nature of pilots is to push the envelope. We must do so, or we’d never graduate beyond the gentle-breeze-straight-down-the-runway-landings we were authorized to do when we started flying (“10 knot crosswind, gusting to 13? Fuhgeddaboudit!”).
I will NEVER be “good enough” to fly below minimums, which I believe was your point. But will I ever be ‘good enough’ to START an approach that is reporting less than minimums, just to check it out? If the fog rolls in and out in waves, the way Gordon described? Maybe one day, although I hope I remember this story. Will I be good enough to never make a mistake like forgetting to climb as called for in the Missed Procedure? I know I’m not. I just hope I don’t goof really badly at the wrong time.
By the way, right now I can’t IMAGINE why I would ever decide to “check out” an approach when ATIS is advertising below-minimum conditions; but I’m sure there was a time that the accident pilot felt the same way, yet he did it last Saturday.
My brother-in-law is among the best pilots I’ve ever known, in almost every way I can measure. He is a real enthusiast, too, with plenty of training, aircraft building, experience, etc. under his belt. He stopped flying a bit over a year ago - sold his beautifully self-built RV-6 - because yet another pilot whom he knew and respected made a fatal mistake.
Everything about flying is a balance, a compromise. But if I mess this one up in the wrong direction - the confidence/humility balance - I could die. My kids think I’m old, but they concede that I’m too young to die. I plan to keep learning, but gradually enough to stay alive.