Ghastly Reminder

Almost killed my family yesterday.

Was flying out of San Jose’s RHV on the way to a sunny week in Palm Springs. Entered IMC at 2500. Next thing you know, my airspeed was 65 knots. Then suddenly I was banked 40 degrees and descending 2000 fpm.

Like most of you, I read the NTSB reports. I like to think I fly with a big margin of safety. Yet there I was, a few seconds away from disaster.

Three lessons I wish to share:

  1. Learn your autopilot forward and backward. I was futzing with mine when I should have been flying the plane.

  2. Fly IFR reguarly or don’t fly it. I hadn’t flown in actual IMC for 5 months. It was ridiculous that had I loaded my family into the plane under these circumstances.

  3. What saved us was the habit, learned in training, of recovering from an unusual attitude. The key moment was when I stopped panicking and pretended I was under the hood with my instructor and no big deal. So I would say: Never fly a new or different plane without first taking unusual attitude training.


Thank you for sharing this with us.

It takes guts to post about a mistake, and generosity to share the information so that we can all learn from it.

Glad you and your family are OK.


PS - Not obvious from your post… were you flying a Cirrus? Not that it makes any difference, just curious.

Thanks very much for posting your experience. There’s lots to be learned.
First, panic kills. Your ability to overcome the initial fear and fly the airplane is what saved you. I know it’s a cliche, but always always always fly the airplane.
Second, IMC is serious stuff. The currency requirement is an absolute minimum.
Third, avionics instruction in light aircraft is still in the dark ages. Autopilots and GPS equipment are wonderful, but if their use is not fully understood they can easily lead one to disaster. Learn the equipment so using it is second nature.
Finally, in my experience it is very important to go on instruments before entering the soup. While I know it’s important to look outside in VMC, I will always transition to the instruments at least a minute or so prior to entering the clouds. This gives me a chance to be sure all instruments are showing what they should show, that the airplane is in good trim and that I’m in control.
Thanks again for the post. I’m glad you came out OK, and shared your learning experience with the rest of us.

Dear 64LK

“almost killed my family.”

Certainly a statement to get one’s attention, and an event which will probably cause restless nightmares.

I am sure all readers are thankful for your safe recovery.

Your statement, “I like to think I fly with a big margin of safety”
may indicate it is time to reevaluate your attitude about complacency and proficiency.

I have my sr20 at RHV so I am at the airport frequently; therefore, I would be available to give you a courtesy
evaluation in your airplane if you are interested. Also, if needed or desired, I will give you some free dual instruction.

Since you had the courage to share your experience on the copa forum, I encourage you to file a NASA ASRS report.
You may download the report form at:


I am sure I can be of help to you and offer some new perspectives for your consideration re safe flying. Since I
am recently retired from a major airline, I am home most of
the time so you can call me at (408) 867-1880.

Happy New Year,

Bill Klett

It’s very sound advice, and of course glad that it turned out well.

I’d bet this was from a Cirrus-friend rather than Cirrus-pilot. One clue is this:

In reply to:

Yet there I was, a few seconds away from disaster.

Query: what additional option might have suggested itself to a Cirrus owner?

But mainly, good wishes to the pilot and his family.

Mike & Jim —

As you both suspected, not a Cirrus. A partner and I flipped a coin last fall autumn and chose a T182T over a SR22 . . . mainly to fly mid-teens in the summer West. (The T182 is essentially turbo-normalized, since the max boost is only 32 inches. Thus I trust its reliability. A turbonormalized SR22, of course, would be a dream plane.)

Your question is about the chute. I honestly don’t know if it would have helped us. One, I don’t know what my AGL was when the disorientation began. But I can guess. We departed runway 13 with ceilings at 2,500. To the south of Reid Hillview the ground rises to 1,700 or so . . . double that if you veer off course . . . thus I might not have had enough air between the plane and the ground for successful deployment of the chute.

Thank God we were in a laterally stable plane. The most ours banked was 40-degrees. I suspect I wouldn’t be writing this had I been flying a Bonanza or a Tiger.

Very glad to hear that it all ended up safely.

Sorry if I’ve missed this point, but what precipitated the departure? Autopilot malfunction? Misue of A/P by Pilot? Spatial disorientation?

I’m not trying to pick on you, but hopefully by objectively examining your problem, we can all learn a bit, and perhaps as Bill suggests, we can all have more data to re-evaluatie our own ‘margins of safety.’

Happy holidays.


Bill, that’s a really nice offer! It’s further proof that Cirrus pilots are the nicest and most generous pilots on the planet. Will you be in Colorado Springs anytime soon? :slight_smile:


Bill: Nice offer but I am a bit at a loss to understand why you think a NASA ACRS form is in order for this incident?

A brief note to say I thought your offer to assist with an IFR “refresher” is very generous and helpful. Your interest is a strong indication of the “brotherhood” which exists in GA. Furthermore, I agree with the suggestion to file a NASA form - and appreciated your justification as well.


The mission of ASRS is to “collect and analyze data to lessen the likelihood of aviation accidents.” Sounds like this pilot was very close to being a statistic. Knowing what pilots do wrong and what they do right are important. I encourage all of my students to file these reports whenever they experience a less than optimal situation. I believe there are pilots out there that do not understand how to use an autopilot and may not think to use one in this situation. To you and I it might be common sense. However, some pilots may not be as fortunate.


There are many reasons for filing a ASRS report. Safety is the primary goal of the program; however, just about anyone
can participate in order to identify aviation related issues.

Anytime a pilot is involved in any aviation issue, it is prudent to file a report, particularly, if it is an incident in which the FAA might get involved.

For example, in the present issue, it appears that an IFR clearance was involved in order to “enter IMC at 2500” and
result in the “unusual attitude.” If this is the case, then it is likely that an altitude deviation may have occurred and ATC
became aware of it via radar “hit” or possible communication with the pilot after the recovery. Therefore, it would be prudent to file an ASRS report. Even if it is not the case, a report is desirable to assist in the many studies undertaken by ASRS.

As you may know, the ASRS program is described in
AC 00-46D, but has been established to identify issues in the
aviation system which need to be addressed. Some of the
suggestions made by the copa reporter are areas that the ASRS are interested in, and requested by the ASRS report, i.e., “Describe Event/Situation, keeping in mind the topics shown below, discuss those which you feel are relevant and anything else you think is important. Include what you believe really caused the problem, and what can be done to prevent a recurrence, or correct the situation.” The topics
are CHAIN OF EVENTS (How the problem arose, How it was discovered, Contributing factors, Corrective actions), and
HUMAN PERFORMANCE CONSIDERATIONS (Perceptions, judgments, decisions - Actions or inactions, Factors affecting the quality of human performance)

Also, this type of report might be one ASRS would choose to highlight in their “CALLBACK” publication to make pilots aware
of the importance of proficiency.

I know the importance and value of the ASRS program as I have known and worked with many of the analysts over about 20 years. ASRS wanted me to work there as an analyst with my experience on the B-747-400, but I refused so I would have more time in retirement to fly my sr20.

Hope this answers your inquiry.