Before getting to the subject at hand I would like to have a word about methodology.
I use final NTSB reports only. These don’t come out until a year or more after the accident. NTSB does issue preliminary reports rather quickly, but, by their own admission, they might contain errors that will be corrected in the final report. I have always questioned the value of any safety research based on preliminary reports. Because there are still pertinent 2011 accidents that haven’t been finalized, I used February 2010 as a basis for this report. Only one accident in that month has not been finalized.
Consider also that the NTSB considers an event an accident when someone suffers death or serious injury or when the aircraft received substantial damage. Broken toes, fingers and noses don’t count; nor do most fender-bender landing accidents, including forced landings and gear-up landings.
There are usually about three times as many events reported to the FAA as become NTSB accidents. The reports generally come to the FAA from local law enforcement or from within the FAA.
For this study we’ll consider fixed-wing airplanes operating under Part 91 in the contiguous 48 states. I found final reports on 52 such accidents for February 2010. That is a relatively low number, but we have known for a long time that accidents are in direct proportion to hours flown. There is not much flying in February and at this time flying activity was further depressed by the lousy economy.
Only five of the total accidents involved homebuilt airplanes. None of these were fatal and this low accident involvement was likely related to a low level of activity in these airplanes. When the weather gets better, they are usually much more involved in the accident picture.
Of the 47 accidents in certified airplanes, 14 were fatal. One of those was a midair collision.
The type of airplanes involved tends to illustrate that pilots fly mainly to go somewhere in the month of February. Five of the fatal accidents were in high-performance singles and four were in twins. So the much larger fleet of simple singles was a relatively small part of the picture this month with the same fatal accident involvement as the twins.
In recent years it seems like the number of twins wrecked is increasing out of proportion to the dwindling fleet size. Is this because as twins get older the maintenance requirements go out of sight in relation to the value of the airplane? There is some suggestion of that in the record and we will see some of that here.
Pilots will spend a lot of money on deicing equipment and even more time worrying about ice. It was a factor in only one accident, involving an A36 Bonanza. The pilot was maneuvering for an approach when he lost control of the airplane. The ice was deemed more of a distraction than a debilitating factor for the airplane.
There were two other IFR accidents. A pilot lost control of his Malibu Mirage on a night instrument approach and a Cessna 310 pilot flew into power lines after a zero-zero takeoff. IFR accidents are usually a bigger part of the picture but the weather in February tends to be either pretty flyable or terribly uncomfortable due to turbulence. There also those snowstorms and trying to operate after one passes can be problematic for days.
Two of the twins were old. One a Model 65 Beech Queen Air, was built in 1960, the other, a Piper Twin Comanche, was built in 1967. In both cases, both engines failed and the dead stick landing that followed was not successful.
An old Queen Air would be a frightfully expensive airplane to maintain today and the airplane itself is not worth much. It is thus not surprising (to me, anyway) that both engines failed. Consider that an engine overhaul on both engines would run about $90,000 against an average retail of $33,000 for the whole airplane and it is obvious that pilots might try to keep on flying until something happens. In this case, too much happened, though no cause was found for the dual failures.
The Twin Comanche bit the dust because the seals on the gas caps were shot and after that airplane sat out in the rain it had a lot of water in the fuel. This was apparently not eliminated during the preflight inspection.
There were four fatal accidents involving an impaired or incapacitated pilot. That is relatively a lot. One was alcohol related. Two were drug-related and one mental. The pilot who went bonkers and flew his Piper Dakota into an Internal Revenue Service office is in this list.
A pilot dismantled a Cessna 337 Skymaster during a high speed low pass. The NTSB faulted both the pilot and the FAA, the latter for a lack of guidelines on the possible interaction between multiple STC modifications. My opinion is that FAA is often fast and loose with STC approvals and a lot of things are approved that would never be allowed to see the light of day on new airplanes.
There were a couple of stall-spin accidents but nothing unusual.
The hours of daylight are a little short in February but darkness was a factor in only three accidents. That is less than would be expected.
The midair was between a Piper PA-25 Pawnee tow plane and a Cirrus. You might have seen the video of the burning Cirrus descending under its chute. The PA-25 had a glider in tow and the glider pilot said he didn’t notice that either airplane took evasive action before impact. The NTSB assigned the usual “failed to see and avoid” probable cause and cited the difficulty both pilots might have had in seeing the other aircraft.
On the same day as the midair, another Cirrus, an SR-22, fell on hard times. Because of an ill passenger, the pilot attempted a landing on a sod strip. The airplane apparently crow-hopped, the nose gear failed, and the airplane flipped over onto its back and was substantially damaged though nobody got hurt.
That last accident was rather typical of the events that wind up being investigated by the NTSB.
As with any list of accidents, it is possible to read through and come to the conclusion that most were a result of the pilot screwing up, or, to put it another way not flying and thinking correctly. Occasionally the thought that comes to mind is, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Those are the accidents that we really need to think long and hard about.