After the tragic crash of the PC-12 in Florida, Pete Bedell wrote on Facebook that he was flying over the top of this accident on the way back from Costa Rica at FL390. (Pete flies for United.) He heard the pilot and controller discussing weather but Pete said that, from his lofty perch, he didn’t see any weather down at Flight Level 250, where the PC-12 was flying, that appeared hazardous.
That crash took the lives of a couple and their four kids, as they were returning from the Bahamas and heading toward their Junction City, Kansas, home. Pete’s mention of it was especially pertinent to me because of a long history of Collins and Bedell family flying. In fact, we first met Pete 42 years ago when he was only weeks old. His parents, Rowland and Julie, loaded their four kids up and flew to visit us in Little Rock.
When I looked at the heartbreaking pictures of the Bramlage family on the web, I reflected on how wonderful it was to be able to load our three kids in the airplane while the Bedells did likewise with their four and we took air trips to watering holes around the country.
One particular time stands out in my memory. We were in Hilton Head with the Bedells and the restaurant had an orchestra and dance floor. After dinner we, adults and kids alike, danced the night away. It is a wonderful memory, made possible by family flying.
It will be a while before the NTSB determines why the Bramlage family trip ended tragically. From what is known now, it almost has to have involved a high speed loss of control. The right wing of the PC-12 failed in flight. That is a robust airplane and it is hard to see how the wing might have failed were the pilot in control of the airplane.
The FlightAware log of the fight supports the loss of control theory. At 12:33 the track reversed course, from west to east as it climbed through FL250 for FL260. At 12:34 it was headed northeast at FL260 and the groundspeed had dropped from 147 to 68 knots. At 12:35 the groundspeed had dropped to 60 knots. At 12:36 the groundspeed had increased to 255 knots and the last hit, at 12:38, showed it headed west again and descending with a groundspeed of 255 knots. Clearly, something really fast and bad had happened.
Airlines are held to a higher degree of care as they take people’s money to fly them around. Be that as it may, I always tried to a hold myself to the highest standard when flying my family around. Folks who hire air transportation, whether by the seat or the airplane, do so voluntarily. It doesn’t work that way with our kids. We take them flying. In most cases, they don’t have a choice. Given that, we owe them big time.
One of the reasons I became such a weather geek over the years was if I was going to fly my family in clouds, I was going to understand everything there was to know about those clouds. If they were bumpy, I always knew why and knew exactly how bumpy it was going to be. Likewise, I knew how to recognize busted forecasts and inaccurate weather observations and how to deal with them.
The weather wisdom I developed served me well when my family wasn’t in the airplane. I’d be the first to confess that I did things solo that I wouldn’t do with my family but when I did, I had an almost total understanding of the risk that I was taking. That was quite useful.
We were headed west one day, toward the central Colorado area. We were in a turbocharged 210. The surface wind was quite strong. We were flying pretty high, all five of us sucking on oxygen, when the air in the Flight Levels got all nervous and I realized that I didn’t have a clue about what might come next. My Rocky Mountain flying experience was limited. Everyone enjoyed the evening in Colorado Springs. Had I been alone, I would have kept going, exploring the condition as I flew into the heart of the Rockies.
Accidents do happen even when you are being careful. There will always be an underlying element of risk in flying. But for my money there is no such thing as being too careful when there is family on board. Do you approach flying differently based on passengers?