6 min read

We received an interesting email from Duane Truitt, one of our readers, who suggested a topic for discussion among pilots. Duane has a particular interest in the tragic accident in Venice, Florida, where two people walking along the beach were killed by a pilot making an emergency landing: Duane is from Naples, also on the southwest Gulf Coast of Florida, and he also owns a Cherokee. Duane’s email is an article in itself, so that’s how we’re presenting it to you. Great food for thought and discussion.

Cherokee on beach

What would you have done?

The pilot of a Cherokee reported to the tower that he lost power not far from the Venice airport, and intended an off-airport landing on a nearby beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, though the pilot was able to make an emergency landing on the beach, his airplane, or portions of it, hit a young father and his nine-year old daughter who were walking on the beach, apparently in the same direction that the aircraft was approaching (so they did not see it coming in, nor hear anything given that the engine was not running). The 36-year old father was killed immediately, and his daughter was severely injured. She was reported to have passed away sometime later while in intensive care.

Reading the comments on various news websites in the Florida area, there was quite a bit of anger directed at the pilot for failing to ditch and avoid hitting the two beachgoers. Understandably so.

A few stray thoughts:

  • The pilot and his right seat passenger were uninjured–yet they will live the rest of their lives knowing the pilot’s actions unintentionally caused the death of two innocent people who were engaged in the simplest and most innocent of family recreation, not even realizing they were in danger of imminent death. I believe these two fellows are going to be haunted forever.
  • This accident, though uncommon if not freakish, is exactly the worst kind of negative image for personal aviation, so it potentially affects all of us pilots.
  • The family of the father and daughter are obviously hugely hurt by this, forever more. Offering our condolences is not enough in such a terrible yet avoidable loss.
  • The accident pilot released a written statement a few days ago. He said that he did not see the two people as he approached to land on the beach, and did not realize the aircraft had hit them until after he and his passenger left the aircraft.  It is not difficult to imagine that the beachwalkers weren’t visible from the aircraft, given that the normal nose-high attitude of the aircraft might screen them from the pilot’s view. However, that by itself does not relieve the pilot of the responsibility, as pilots need to know that faced with a similar power off landing on a beach, or a highway, or a city street, or other occupied place on the ground, any of us will likely also not be able to see people who are directly below in the final flight path… meaning, this is a good reason to stay well away from any such occupied areas, even if they seem temptingly straight and unobstructed.
  • Practically speaking, it is going to be difficult to ascertain that a stretch of beach is completely vacant of people unless the pilot has sufficient (but not too much) altitude to do a fly-over above the beach, or perform a spiral descent, at sufficiently low altitude to really examine the area carefully before attempting a beach landing. The same applies for scoping out any off-airport landing site that might be occupied by pedestrians or vehicles, such as a road, park, parking lot, golf course, or other open area.
  • My intent here is not to condemn the accident pilot, or to second guess what the pilot should have done, but rather, my intent is for us pilots to use this case to look for lessons should we ever be faced with a situation such as he faced, with very little time to think about the best course of action.
  • A lot of commenters on various websites this week assumed that the better decision for the pilot, though riskier to the pilot and his passenger, would have been to have ditched in the water just off the beach. Ditching, more often than not, typically does not result in a fatality, especially in a situation like this one, in very shallow water next to land. But what we don’t know is if the pilot and/or his passenger could swim, or if they were equipped with life preservers (in all likelihood, probably not).  Nor do we know yet if the pilot simply didn’t know how to safely ditch his aircraft (it’s not taught in most pilot training programs).
  • It seems that there should be an obligation for us pilots, especially those carrying passengers, in flights over or near the water to be mentally prepared and sufficiently knowledgeable to conduct a safe ditching.  Of course, we also don’t know (based upon media reports so far) if there were any swimmers in the water whom the pilot saw and was also trying to avoid… but even in that case, moving the aircraft’s flight path to even 50 yards or so off the surf line would likely avoid most if not virtually all swimmers at the typical ocean beach. But that of course would put the aircraft in somewhat deeper water, thus increasing the risk of drowning should the aircraft flip upside down in the surf after touchdown (which is not uncommon, especially for fixed gear high wing aircraft).
  • Sure, this kind of accident is freakishly uncommon. But not altogether improbable for any pilot to be confronted with this type of choice of emergency responses when flying along or near a shoreline (ocean, lake, or river).

There are no easy or cheap answers for this… if it were me in that aircraft (I own and fly the same Piper Cherokee model that was involved in this incident, and I live near the Gulf Coast and have regularly flown near or just off the beach areas), I am mentally prepared to ditch near the beach if I cannot make it to an airport after a loss of power. Whenever I fly over or near the coastline, I routinely examine both the shoreline (for people) and the character of the wind and seas so that I know where I can set down if need be… just as when flying over land I continually scan for potential emergency landing sites. I’ve studied up on how to ditch, so I know more or less what to do in a ditching (though I’ve never had to do one, thankfully).

Now with this accident as a fresh reminder, I know that even with the best of intentions, landing on a beach near any kind of occupied stretch of the coast may result in hurting innocents, which would be simply unacceptable. Ditto for off airport landings on occupied roads, parking lots, or other areas with lots of people on the ground.

Pilots really do need to think through these scenarios in advance and be prepared to act accordingly.

What are your thoughts? What is your reaction to this accident?

Duane Truitt
70 replies
  1. Liad biton
    Liad biton says:

    I disagree. I do think this is the pilots fault.
    As someone who flys the San Diego coast line I can tell u that it’s busy with people all year long, yet even at 1,500ft I can choose a good place to land without Killing anyone. He should have ditched in the water, even if it means higher risk to himself and his passenger.

    • Jerry Smith
      Jerry Smith says:

      I agree for the father & daughter had every right to be there at that moment so it was not their fault & the air plane did not have the right to be there. Yet I sure that living with what happned will be very hard on the pilot & he will never get over this.

      Here is an article on this event on the Daily Mail.

      And pictures of the father with his 3 children, the faces of the children are blocked out.

      • Gary
        Gary says:

        As a child living in N.H. CA, I remember a Stinson had to make an emergency landing. I was playing in the street & noticed that it was low & heading towards Burbank Airport, in my direction. The plane turned east & crashed into a house by the then Columbia Lot (Columbia Studios) No one died. The pilot told reporters that he had planned to land on a street but saw children (me) and tried for the lot. Later in life I too used to fly the CA coastline and I kept in my emergency pack ditching supplies in the event of an engine failure. I never thought of landing on a beach.

    • Duane Truitt
      Duane Truitt says:


      I may not have been very clear above, but I’m not defending the actions of the accident pilot here, though I did point out some factors that might have (?)influenced the accident pilot’s thinking.

      The point of the discussion that I hoped for is not hold an up or down vote on the pilot’s actions … what’s already done is done, and there is little to nothing to be gained from staging an online argument. Rather, it is for us pilots to use this tragic outcome as an opportunity spend a bit of time thinking and talking about what should be the right and proper thing do if faced with the same circumstance.

      Simply saying “he should have ditched” is not sufficient – if a pilot is completely unprepared, mentally and physically, to ditch safely he or she is much more likely to choose to land on the beach.

      Another factor that I didn’t address above is “confirmation bias”. The pilot stated that he didn’t see the people on the beach, implying that if he had seen them, he wouldn’t have landed there. When faced with an emergency landing and the adrenaline kicks in, it is easy for one’s mind to see what one wants to see (a vacant beach), and vice versa. We need to understand the fact of confirmation bias, and again, thinking through actions in advance and mentally preparing to take the best action is a defense against such “wishful thinking”.

      How many of us have spent any time studying and thinking about how to ditch an aircraft? On overwater or shoreline flights, are we properly equipped with life preservers (preferably manually inflatable types that can be worn constantly or quickly donned in the cockpit)? Have we briefed our passengers on what to do in a ditching?

      Do our readers have other suggestions?

      • John Zimmerman
        John Zimmerman says:

        I think you make a great point here, Duane. If you haven’t practiced it or thought about it, the idea of ditching is not easy. Your point about confirmation bias is very thought-provoking too.

      • Liad B.
        Liad B. says:

        I did get your point, and I would like to repeat mine; day VFR, huge coast in front of you, a passenger who can help u “see” better…. He had many things working for him and chose not to use them.

        So my point is not that he is a bad pilot, but rather that he should have used his resources better, and when he didn’t, it was deadly.

    • Rob
      Rob says:

      Greetings folks.
      I would offer that this looks like a case of perhaps what general aviation trains in power plant failure scenarios/management and also currency, skills, judgement and experience of the person controlling the aircraft. Its easy to throw stones at the pilot in this case but lets remember, he had passed all his training requirements and had a license issued to him certified by the FAA. So the issue is perhaps training, certification and continuing qualification standards of the general aviation community. I am shure a high percentage of the general aviation community are skilled and qualified to operate their aircraft. But I am also shure that a portion of the general aviation community really should be monitored a bit more closely. Are BFR’s adequate for everyone? When I was flying singles I always had a plan and a pathway or two to get the SE aircraft onto the ground or water safely. That was always a part of my inner vision for the flight no matter what phase or position I was in. This pilot should have had a course of action envisioned in real time as he was operating the aircraft in case of power plant failure. He should have seen his clearway as he was on short final and be ready to adjust into the water if he had to. A ditching should not have been a big deal in that type of aircraft. People in his path should have been visible to him before touchdown. Training and proficiency in this type of maneuver and everything leading up to it should have created a higher level of safety. But it appears that it was not the case in this scenario. Sadly, the outcome was tragic when everyone could have gone home safely. Lets hope that instead of pinging on the pilot, general aviation can get better because of what happened. Lets hope that when CFI’s are practicing forced landings with their students in all phases of flight, they are instilling to the student pilot a sense of always being ready for this event and knowing not only what space to place the aircraft in, but where the people are too. Even Sully knew where to go in a large jet liner faced with a forced landing scenario over a densely populated city. You almost always have options, and you should plan your flight so that you have good options and not paint yourself into corners.

  2. Andrew Tuohy
    Andrew Tuohy says:

    I’ve made two emergency landings, one after an engine failure and one after an electrical fire. In both cases I made it to a runway, but I did ensure that the area in front of me was clear and safe for a landing. If you can’t, in daytime, select a good spot for an emergency landing without killing people on the ground, you shouldn’t sit in the left seat. This pilot is a disgrace to the general aviation community.

    • Duane Truitt
      Duane Truitt says:


      Selecting a good spot for an emergency landing that will not kill anyone on the ground is sometimes (as in this case) a relatively easier decision, even if it does impose additional risk on the occupants of the airplane. According to some stats I’ve seen (http://www.equipped.com/ditching.htm), the fatality rate in aircraft ditching runs about 16 percent.

      In other cases, it’s not an easy decision at all. In densely populated urban areas, there may be virtually no place to land a fixed wing aircraft without potentially running into people, vehicles, or occupied buildings. The best case action may be to simply avoid overflying such areas at low altitudes.

      • Andrew Tuohy
        Andrew Tuohy says:


        I will be curious to learn at what altitude he started having problems. Normally I like to climb fast and stay high, because I have had to glide before. When I do (occasionally) fly low, I like to be very fast so that I may trade some speed for a little altitude if possible. Of course, we do not live in an ideal world. When we fly low, we have to accept the risk of an engine failure limiting our options for emergency landing sites. Even when it’s a pretty day and we just want to fly along the beach and enjoy the view.

        Thanks for writing and thinking about this,


        • Duane Truitt
          Duane Truitt says:

          Andrew – we may have to wait for the NTSB to issue their accident report to get the specifics on initial altitude and position relative to the Venice Airport. So far in the media reports, and reading between the lines in the accident pilot’s written statement, it appears he must have been at relatively low altitude as he had but seconds to decide on a landing spot.

          When overflying obstructed terrain – I’m with you … altitude is the pilot’s best friend! Altitude = time.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Don’t ever fly out of Merrill field in Anchorage,Ak then. If heading east you have a few options, going west welcome to downtown Anchorage.

  3. Cesar Villalobos
    Cesar Villalobos says:

    I too think the pilot is at fault here. He should have ditched and it’s very likely the man that died would have helped them get safely ashore.

    What troubles me is this: Aviation accidents are much better news than any other transport. I see this very much like a car hitting a pedestrian. Is the driver not also equally responsible? Is he not supposed to have training and think of innocent lives also? From NHTSA site: “pedestrians were one of the few groups of road users to experience an increase in fatalities in the United States in 2011, totaling 4,432 deaths.” 4,432! It saddens me that we as pilots get so much bad press over one accident.

    This is a common topic with my wife. “Honey, did you see the news about the Cessna that crashed in Nigeria?” A small 4 place plane crashes on the other side if the world and we know about it. But do they also let us know if a compact sedan crashes in Spain?

    As responsible pilots, we should learn from this. I hope if I am ever faced with an emergency situation like this one, that I will make the smartest and safest decisions for my passengers and people on the ground. My deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. And also to the pilot, for he will have to carry this burden for the rest of his life.

    • Stu Simpson
      Stu Simpson says:


      You raise a really good point about why airplane crashes generate headlines way out of proportion to their relative effect on society. I think I know why.

      We humans are born with only two innate fears; a fear of loud noises and a fear of falling. If you clap your hands beside a new-born infant it will start. The same will happen if you drop it from an inch above a soft blanket. All our other fears are learned as we mature.

      The news media, simply put, sells negative emotion, the strongest of which is usually fear, followed closely by shock and anger. Since the fear of falling is hard-wired into each of us, it’s easy to see why media outlets grab on to the slightest indication of possibly or actually plummeting from the heavens to a fiery, helpless death. It shocks viewers or readers and touches the inescapable nerve in each of us that fears falling.

      Naturally, the truth about any given aviation story is almost always damned because it doesn’t sell as much advertising as the story agenda which taps into our our most basic fears and emotions. It’s truly despicable, but sadly, unlikely to change.

  4. Chris
    Chris says:


    Thanks for this very important initiative.
    I appreciate anyone thinking and practicing realistic scenarios derived from accidents such as the one on hand.
    As a CFI it’s my duty, to shape every student I fly with in preparing for the worst.
    It takes commitment and professionalism to be proficient.
    I ask everyone to make an account at http://www.faasafety.gov/
    Safer Skies Through Education.
    Practice,practice, practice and practice again !!!!
    Tragedies can be avoided, blame should be avoided.
    Education should be embraced.
    We need to spend our time and fuel wisely, every flight is an opportunity for practicing Emergencies.

    Fly Safe !!!

  5. Jerry Smith
    Jerry Smith says:

    Personally I don’t feel that most are arguing, just expressing their opinion on this matter & giving their thoughts.

    I would think that with two people in an airplane that the pilot could sway the airplane a bit to the right them to the left & in doing so they could see if anyone or anything was in their path along the edge of the beach. And it seems to me that would be a very important thing to do for ones on survival. For even a small boat pulled up on the shore & or a large rock could cause the death of everyone in the air plane.

    And of course some would only think of their own survival in the moment of panic. And please, I am not saying this pilot did that for I know not his thoughts during that time.

    Of course no one knows what they would do in such a situation until they’ve been there & done it. Yet discussing such issues will prepare a person for that event if it ever comes their way.

    • Ted Stevens
      Ted Stevens says:

      “Of course no one knows what they would do in such a situation until they’ve been there & done it. ”

      Exactly, and it’s a shame that you’re in the minority in being aware of that. The armchair heroes in this thread are, in my opinion, far too secure in their judgments when the harsh truth is that they don’t know what they would have done; they’re just exercising their 20-20 hindsight.

      I too hope I would make the right decision, but I have no way of knowing what would happen in the heat of the moment. I think its good that this discussion has prompted some introspection from some people, but those that are so secure in their self-awarded superiority concern me.

  6. Tom N.
    Tom N. says:

    For me, what it boils down to is this. We are the ones that CHOOSES to be up there. So, if it comes to be a choice between risking our lives and risking someone else’s, it has to be ours that we put at risk. And we make other choices, too. If we CHOOSE to fly over water without life-preservers, that is on us. If we CHOOSE to fly over water when we don’t know how to swim, that, too, is on us. (Not saying that this is true of the pilot in question.) We have no right to endanger other people with the choices we make.

    So, as pilots, I think we have the responsibility to mitigate the risks for others, before we think about mitigating risks for ourselves. A beach in Florida in July probably has people on it. “I didn’t see them.” isn’t good enough for me. Unless you are absolutely certain that there is no one on that beach (because you did fly-bys or spiraling descents), you have no business landing there. In a situation like this, we need to think about ditching pretty far out (150 feet?). If you face the risk of drowning because your plane flips, or you don’t know how to swim and you aren’t carrying life preservers, well that’s the CHOICE we made.

    I don’t think of most plane accidents as “ordinary” accidents like a car accident. Especially in this country, being in a car is a necessary part of ordinary life for the most part. But being in a small plane is generally not. We fly because we choose to, not because we need to. (At least that is true for most of us.) So, to me, accidents that involve others that happen out of something we do out of necessity, and out of something we do out of choice are different–the latter carries a far greater responsibility.

    As others have said, a lot of this has to do with training–yes, it is important to think through what we will do in a ditching, or any number of emergencies. But part of that training has to be that, we drill it in to us that in any emergency the safety of the people on the ground comes before our own.

    And I hope to god that I will have the courage of my convictions in a similar emergency.

  7. Chris
    Chris says:

    Tragedy can be avoided by the pilot who thinks and prepares way ahead of time.
    Working hard, thinking hard and sometimes staying on the ground until maintenance is up to date and physical/ mental preparation is complete.
    In this accident we are asked to decide where to touch down, as if there are no other choices.
    ADM starts days, months and years before the tragic moment of loss of life, particularly innocent life and property on the ground.
    Proficiency is paramount, the same pilot flies differently on every flight.
    Better or worse, never the same.

  8. Mark Fay
    Mark Fay says:

    I was having this conversation with friends a few weeks before this happened when we talked about John Denver’s death. While the report doesn’t say it, it seems Denver made the choice to head out over the water when the engine quit for the safety of those on the beach. He then stalled it trying to change tanks.

    I made the comment that I didn’t know if I would be willing to trade my life for another person’s in this situation. I was strongly rebuked by everyone, including my wife. All made clear that as non pilots they expect us to sacrifice ourselves for the innocents. I was impressed so many commenters here felt they could hold other’s lives at a greater value.

    I brought up a hypothetical: An out of control semi truck is coming into your lane and your only place to avoid is the sidewalk where people may be walking. What do you do? As a car crash expert I know cases like this; very, very few people ever are able to sacrifice themselves for others when they are driving a car. In fact, I don’t know of a single case but I know several where they headed for the sidewalk.

    3 out of the 5 people in the conversation said they would likely save themselves with the excuse being the semi truck’s failure to control was not their fault; 1 out of the 5 didn’t know what she would do. Only 1 said they would risk their own life and not turn onto the sidewalk.

    In Denver’s case, he must have known he had screwed up. In that case, by all means I would sacrifice myself and the aircraft.

    But what if the failure of the aircraft caused it, I asked, like an unexpected catastrophic failure of the engine? Isn’t that just like the semi truck? I hastened to add this doesn’t happen often and the cause of Denver’s failure (and maybe this one, too?) was fuel related.

    No one changed their minds about what the pilot was expected to do, but no one really answered the hypothetical either.

    Bottom line: higher expectations are on us as pilots – and as we see here, even from other pilots than are on the average person.

    for the record, I made the promise to myself that I would not risk others if this Hobbesian choice ever presented itself.

    In the highly unlikely event it ever happens to me I hope to God I can keep it.

    • Duane Truitt
      Duane Truitt says:

      Mark – interesting perspective there. There are indeed some scenarios where a pilot has only two choices – kill himself (and his passengers), or kill someone on the ground. Very tough to deal with as our natural survival instincts and “fight or flight” response kick in.

      However, the more “innocent” passengers who are on board the aircraft, and/or the more at-risk pedestrians on the ground, the more mental gymnastics a pilot would have to go through to judge the better moral choice. It can get rather gray and murky in a hurry!

      With respect to ditching, though, given that the typical near-shore beach ditching gives the aircraft occupants about 9:1 odds against dying, that fact heavily weights the decision in favor of ditching in most cases. Of course, the pilot needs to be aware of that fact, be properly equipped, and also be aware of how to ditch safely … or else the calculus gets distorted.

      • Duane Truitt
        Duane Truitt says:

        Correction – that would be about 11:1 odds against dying in a near-shore ditching (9% fatality rate).

  9. Ken Currin
    Ken Currin says:

    Beach or Sea? I think most people would have picked the beach. Especially if it was in a remote area. Do we know if it was a heavily populated area or the father/daughter had wondered off the beaten path? Nose up attitude would have blocked his view, not to mention his already anxious moments leading up to what was probably his first crashed landing.

    I know it is easy for everyone to play Monday Morning quarterback, but I think most would not intentionally take another life, but they would take the necessary steps to save those in their immediate care.

  10. Jerry Smith
    Jerry Smith says:

    Its easier to be selfish than playing Monday morning quarterback. And most of us are selfish.

    I’ve read many articles about plane crashes where they stated the pilot sacrificed his life to keep from killing those on the ground. You can’t help but respect such a person.

  11. Mark C
    Mark C says:

    Among the lives I hold myself responsible for, are the lives of any non-pilot passengers in my a/c. I don’t know the situation here, but in most cases our passengers don’t fully understand the risks when they “choose” to fly with us and they are just as innocent as people on the ground. I wasn’t there, I don’t know how much time the pilot had to make decisions or what else may have been going on. If this beach could have reasonably been assumed to be vacant, then this was a tragic accident. If the beach would normally have people on it, then maybe while calling ATC to report his trouble, he should have headed farther off shore – if people were aware he went down and what his position was, he had a reasonable chance of rescue even if that went badly. Anyone who has ever flown an arrival or departure over a city knows that at some point the choice isn’t where to put it down without hurting anyone, but where you’ll hurt the fewest people. This much I know – every time any one of us makes a flight where we don’t have to make these kinds of decisions, we need to be very, very thankful.

  12. Brett Stephens
    Brett Stephens says:

    A lot of noteworthy points in this thread, both agreeable and disagreeable. As a pilot operating out of Venice, I offer a few factual observations.

    First, i’ve read two different comments over the last week that the accident pilot “radioed the tower.” Those in the know also know that Venice is a non-towered airport. Calling the CTAF was a huge waste of precious time, as it hits the desk of an FBO that cannot, for liability reasons, provide any more guidance than the last reported runway use and current wind conditions. In the ‘Aviate – Navigate – Communicate’ paradigm, the accident pilot was radioing a predicament to some one on the ground incapable of providing any immediate emergency assistance. Time would have been better spent focusing on a safe landing.

    I was actually flight testing my aircraft following some major maintenance less than two hours prior to the event. Winds were relatively calm and I used RWY 31, departing with a sidestep out over the Gulf. If the accident pilot chose RWY 30 out of X36 five miles to the south, the math suggests a relatively low altitude, even at best rate. Altitude, speed and brains? They say any two will get you out of a pickle. Maybe.

    One comment in this thread that I did not read anywhere else, and if true, reinforces my notion of tunnel vision. Paraphrasing, “the accident pilot did not even know he had hit anyone until afterward.” The human brain is hard wired to degrade situational awareness down to a very narrow and more manageable focus, which in this case was the terrain immediately in front of the aircraft that did not include the wingspan. While the pilot did everything possible to ensure the safety of the flight and passenger, that obviously did not include pedestrians on the ground. Without suggesting negligence or liability, which would be inappropriate, my point is that this event may justify precluding beach landings altogether, opting for ditching in close proximity.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t personally consider myself the consummate airman. Having lost close friends and associates with professional/military ratings and flight hours far in excess of mine in some of the most hostile and austere flying environments, I continually ask myself some very probing questions. I make mistakes, just like everyone else. I made one today involving radio communications on the ground at a towered airport. Very humbling.

    One question that I find most useful on cross country flights is an exercise I call, “Where would you put it?” While enjoying the passing landscape, I take note of suitable off-airport locations for an emergency landing.

    A close friend with a good story to tell did a successful ditching in the Gulf. On a return flight to Venice from the south, the two pilots in their 172 experienced an engine failure with the benefit of altitude. Prior to the flight, they had delineated cockpit tasks and when power failed, they were already engaged in the “where to put it” exercise. In this case, it did not include the crowded beach. They ditched, flipped over, kicked out the glass and immediately began their swim ashore.

    • Duane Truitt
      Duane Truitt says:

      Brett – very good comment about crew preparation for a ditching. Ditto for Chris’s comment above

      On a minor point – I am guilty as charged in writing in the original post above that the pilot called the tower – I have never been to Venice Municipal Airport and just parroted the media reports (I should have checked the sectional to confirm if towered or not).

      As for being prepared to ditch, there are some interesting data posted at http://www.equipped.com/ditching.htm regarding ditching and fatality rates (also information about how to ditch safely).

      Well down the page the ditching stats are apportioned according to the types of operation. The highest fatality rate was 25%, for “over water” operations (i.e., flights over water beyond 50 miles from shore), which seems logical given the rescue challenges offshore. The lowest fatality rate was for “marginal overwater” at 9%, which would include beach flying, banner tows, etc. Interestingly, the “Non-overwater” category had a significantly higher fatality rate at 12%.

      The data imply that the fatality rate is higher when the pilot and passengers are not necessarily prepared to ditch.

  13. rick
    rick says:

    couple comments

    I fly in that area occasionally. That beach (I am assuming just south of Venice airport – not sure exactly where this happened) is not your typical packed with people beach. It is a less populated area than say Ft Myers Beach or Sarasota. So I have often thought that in a What If situation that beach may be a viable option.

    Are you really doing the approach in a nose up altitude to the point where you cant see what is in front of you when you are at full flaps and have yet to flair for the landing spot you picked out? Certainly you can see what is in your path when your 100 feet or so off the ground even in a low wing plane? and at that point a slight turn out into the water should get you well past any swimmers as typically most are well within 100 yards of the shore.

    Interesting a relatively cheap piece of equipment that may have saved the lives of those on the beach… a horn. A small hand-held air-horn like you see at sporting events would suffice but I have seen suggestions of having them built into the plane like you have in your car. Obviously the folks walking the beach cannot hear a plane gliding in behind them. but if it did have a horn the pilot could have sounded, could have been a different outcome. Then again you panic those in your path and they may continue to run in your path instead of avoid it. But at least you have a chance. I saw this posted after the accident. it never occurred to me prior to that.

    Only that pilot and passenger knows what they could and could not see and if this was just an unfortunate freak accident. It is a horrible tragedy for all involved.

    • Joanne
      Joanne says:

      The idea of a horn as a warning, is reasonable. We have reversing alarms on trucks for that reason.

      Although if you thought you had to use the horn you would have seen the person you were honking at!

    MORT MASON says:

    It seems as though most of these comments neglect a few things. The pilot thought the beach to be without people. His choice was whether to ditch or to land on the beach. The beach would have seemed the better answer, if for no other reason than the airplane wouldn’t be salt water soaked, leading to a much more reasonable repair situation.

    I’m concerned that he didn’t use any flaps, which would have done several things for him. At least, it would have shortened his approach and lowered the nose for better forward visibility, perhaps allowing him to both see the beach walkers and to land well short of them.

    As for me, I cannot fault the pilot. This is just one of those terrible situations for which the term “accident” was coined, I suspect.

    • Duane Truitt
      Duane Truitt says:


      Your comment seems to suggest that the PIC’s main concern needs to be focused on the economics of post-accident repair in deciding on ditching vs. beach landing.

      I know what I think about that kind of calculation – and what a trial jury is also likely to think of it … but I’d also be interested to read what others here think about risking the lives of innocent beach-walkers in return for keeping the repair bill to a minimum.

      • MORT MASON
        MORT MASON says:

        Well, Duane Truitt, I don’t understand how you missed the “focus” of my response. I think I used the term “if for no other reason”. A beach landing is usually a piece of cake. A ditching NEVER is.

        Since the pilot reported not having seen anyone on the beach, why would he avoid landing on a dry spot in favor of a possible drowning?

        My nearly 21,000 hours as an Alaska bush pilot has seen several of my own emergency landings. It has also taught me to think of EVERYTHING attendant to such a landing, which includes costs, insurance concerns, and license actions in case of errors.

        While these matters are admittedly low on the list, you’d do well to keep them in the back of your own mind . . . . . just in case.

        • Duane Truitt
          Duane Truitt says:


          I respect your opinion as an highly experienced Alaska bush pilot, but I just don’t like trying to weigh dollars versus lives in any calculation by pilots, as a general proposition. The built-in cost of flying must take into account that the pilot may in some circumstances have to sacrifice the airplane and/or even his/her own safety in the face of hurting others – people who did not make the conscious choice to fly as we do every time we go up. We accept the risk – people on the ground do not. You disagree with me, and I disagree with you on that count, so we’ll leave it at that.

          Your perception that a beach landing is a “piece of cake”, however, is no doubt a reflection of where you fly. Our readers are spread all over the US and we have quite a few international readers, so nobody’s view of what is a “piece of cake” is likely to match everyone else’s view or perception.

          In Alaska, you have a total population of about 736,000 persons, spread out in a state that is the largest in area by far (663,00+ square miles) in the US, and has the longest coastline (5,580 miles) by far of any US state. Your total tourism visits are under 2 million visitors per year, and relatively few of those visitors make a point of hanging out at the beach.

          Therefore the probability of an airplane landing dead stick and hitting a person on the beach in Alaska is relatively low.

          Whereas here in Florida, we have a population of nearly 20 million (27 times the population of Alaska) crammed into less than one tenth the land area of Alaska – making our population density 270 times as much as Alaska’s. Florida has a total coastline length of only 1,350 miles, less than one quarter of Alaska’s … and we have nearly 90 million visitors per year – 45 times as many as Alaska’s annual visitation – and nearly all of them spend considerable time on our beaches (the beach is the single biggest tourist attraction in the state).

          So the probability of an aircraft in a dead stick landing hitting a person on the beach here in Florida is, mathematically speaking, astronomically higher than what you face in Alaska.

          It is similar in other major coastal populated areas and tourist destinations around the world. A pilot in New York City or Honolulu or Rio de Janeiro or Sydney would probably not find a beach landing in those areas to be a “piece of cake” either – more like a nightmare, such as the one the accident pilot faced in Venice, Florida last month. Of course, even in high population areas, in “off season” (such as winter up north) there may be relatively few beachgoers to dodge. Here in Florida, there really is no offseason, with beachgoers hanging out all year around, with even more of them in winter than in summer.

          Just as the risk posed by landing on the beach varies place by place, and by time of year, the risk of a ditching can vary a great deal too. There are places where a ditching could easily be an automatic death sentence, such as in a raging river, or along a rocky or cliff-lined coast, or at beaches with strong currents or big breaking waves. Weather, of course, can change dramatically as well and greatly affect the risks of a ditching. Water and weather conditions to be taken into account.

          A pilot needs to take all of these things into consideration as a matter of preflight planning and preparation in order to perform effective “flight risk management”.

          • Andy Smothers
            Andy Smothers says:

            Fabulous — well researched and presented response. As a fellow Floridian and pilot, I applaud your accuracy and empirical positioning.

            Bravo! No human life is ever negotiable with regard to the replacement cost of an inanimate machine, its insurance cost or remediation expense…

            Well stated.

  15. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    I hate to second-guess anyone, when I haven’t been faced with the exact same situation. The closest I have been to this accident is that I have had a catastrophic engine failure, some 11 1/2 years ago, at 800′ AGL, and I made a successful landing in a field–but there were no people, no cattle, no sheep, and no rocks. There was a ditch which I did not see, but I stopped before reaching it.

    I have landed many times at airstrips which often have people and dogs crossing them, and it’s very, very hard to see them against the terrain, whether from 1000′ AGL while upwind and downwind, or at 200′ AGL on short final. Last Fall, I was on short final at one of them when what caught my eye was a woman suddenly breaking into a run–I didn’t see her at all until then, yet I had a perfect view of where she was. She apparently didn’t see or hear my airplane until someone hollered at her, and I didn’t see her because she was moving slowly.

    Recently I passed my SES checkride, flying out of Lake Union, in Seattle. Lake Union is incredibly busy, with large and small power boats and sail boats, kayaks, paddle boards, all sorts of small water craft along with the occasional swimmer. It is extraordinarily hard to see some of them from the air, until practically on top of them. Although I never had to go around in the process of learning how to operate a seaplane, it was a constant concern.

    This was a hideous accident, as is any accident in which innocents die or are injured. But I have to take at face value that the pilot did not see the man and his daughter. Were I in that pilot’s situation, I would have certainly looked for any obstructions on the beach including people, but I don’t claim I would have seen them. Had I not seen anything, that would have been my landing site, too. I also would be second-guessed by everyone from non-pilots to experienced pilots, but all of them not having been there at that time and place under those same conditions. And I also would be haunted by the knowledge that I had killed them–a horrible memory that would last forever.


    • Pat Wasson
      Pat Wasson says:

      I live 4 miles from this incident. My question is this – Lake Venice Golf Club was within his glide range. I have to wonder why he didn’t choose to land there…

  16. Gary Kevorkian
    Gary Kevorkian says:

    My heart goes out to the people in the airplane and especially on the ground.
    Safety is number one.
    Lesson learned is ” what can we do as pilots to save lives and minimize loss of life, property, etc when emergency takes place, while enjoying what we love to do – fly!”
    When I first read the article I knew that the pilot community would get bad PR in media.
    What should we do to be safer pilots? Adequate fuel? Risk management? Good preflight? Plan or train for emergencies? It is an endless list.
    Yes flying is very exciting, adventurous, safe, etc…But with it comes a lot of responsibility.
    I do not want to judge anyone. I want to wait for NTSB to give us all the facts.
    My personal lesson is to continue doing good preflights, attend FAA safety seminars, learn from others, practice emergency procedures, always think about safety of people and property, practice risk management PAVE, use common sense, anticipate trouble all the time but temper it with confidence because I have done all the previous safety actions beforehand.
    If I realize that I am not conducting my flights safely, I will quit flying and tend to less riskier lifestyle.

  17. Gary Kevorkian
    Gary Kevorkian says:

    My heart goes out to the people in the airplane and especially on the ground.
    Safety is number one.
    Lesson learned is ” what can we do as pilots to save lives and minimize loss of life, property, etc when emergency takes place, while enjoying what we love to do – fly!”
    When I first read the article I knew that the pilot community would get bad PR in media.
    What should we do to be safer pilots? Adequate fuel? Risk management? Good preflight? Plan or train for emergencies? It is an endless list.
    Yes flying is very exciting, adventurous, safe, etc…But with it comes a lot of responsibility.
    I do not want to judge anyone. I want to wait for NTSB to give us all the facts.
    My personal lesson is to continue doing good preflights, attend FAA safety seminars, learn from others, practice emergency procedures, always think about safety of people and property, practice risk management PAVE, use common sense, anticipate trouble all the time but temper it with confidence because I have done all the previous safety actions beforehand.
    If I realize that I am not conducting my flights safely, I will quit flying and tend to less riskier lifestyle.

  18. Eric Marsh
    Eric Marsh says:

    I think that it’s necessary to take the pilot at his word when he says that he did not see anyone on the beach. I think that it’s also important to remember that an emergency dead stick landing is a high stress situation which can tend to create a some tunnel vision. Also just about any pilot feels a responsibility not only for himself but for any passengers who might riding along. My understanding is that the pilot and his wife were elderly which increases the risk of a fatality if he had landed in the water. So unless the pilot had reason to believe there were people on the beach he probably did the prudent thing.

    My take is simply that this was an unfortunate accident. Although we never like to see things like this happen, they do. That’s why they call them accidents.

    I feel bad for all involved but not having been there I’m not in a position to second guess anyone.

  19. John Swallow
    John Swallow says:

    I will not comment on this pilot’s actions in this scenario because I wasn’t there and do not know with what he was faced. However, I can comment on what I would have done. Given that I don’t routinely fly offshore in gliding distance to land, for me it would be a “one off” situation. Therefore, I would do a risk analysis prior to that “one time overwater” flight.

    1. What are the odds of an engine failure in that aircraft?
    2. What are the odds of an engine failure in that aircraft on that particular day?
    3. What are the odds of someone being in my chosen landing area on that day?
    4. What are the odds of me not seeing someone in my chosen landing area?

    Now, every now and then, all the holes in the swiss cheese will line up and you’ll have an unfortunate accident as occurred in Florida; however, the odds against such happening are pretty high.

    So, given that the possibility of serious injury or even death may accrue from a water landing, my flight planning dictate that in the event of an event necessitating an immediate landing, I would go for the beach.

    Many years ago, I had to leave a crippled jet shortly after take-off at low altitude. When I pulled the handles, that last thing on my mind was the final resting place of the aircraft. As it turned out, it exploded in a farmer’s field a half-mile from people. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator…

  20. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Beach, water, field – who is to know where someone is or isn’t at any particular time. Only a runway is your closest to a guarantee of a clear area, since its marked for landing and you could call an emergency and other airplanes should give way.
    Other than that you can just play probabilities. Even when you think ahead and en route look for large open spaces you are just finding places where there probably is no one. You cannot guarantee it till you are on the ground.
    There was a comment that there was a golf course near by – that too in probability would have had people (and trees to hit).
    I have done a few scenic coastal routes. The ones nearer to the city and suburbs I mentally think about ditching and the surf conditions and if I ditched were would the waves push me. Another has a near deserted beach and the defined route is to fly at 500ft, so my thoughts had been the best option was in fact to land on the beach only making shallow turns to maintain control of the aircraft. It would be worse if I lost control.
    Arriving and departing my local airport there is lakes at one end, but warehouses etc at the other. In fact even though the airport was there first building are now crowding around it.
    Legally people are allowed to fly that coastal route, just as they are allowed to walk on the beach. Who should or shouldn’t have been there? can you say?
    If you have an emergency engine failure you first have to maintain control and then you just pick what seems best based on probability with the knowledge and skill that you have, and pray that probability is on your side. It is very sad that in this case probability was not on the side of either pilot or those that died on the beach.

  21. Rob
    Rob says:

    As a student pilot at a rural airport I an often confronted with deer, geese, ducks, fox, etc. and wish I had a horn, maybe this would have helped alert the walkers?

      MORT MASON says:

      Hey, Rob – – – buy a small air horn, the kind usually carried on small boats. Compressed air. Open the window, stick the air horn outside, and press the button. It works !!!

  22. Mike
    Mike says:

    I think if you do not know how to swim that you should not fly over water. Furthermore it is your duty to ditch into the water knowing this is a beach where human traffic would be. Pilots have insurance on their planes but not ego’s. The pilot will pay no greater price than he already has. His Conscience.

    • Mark C
      Mark C says:

      How far out into the water would you like him to go? What if he went 100 yards out and hit a paddle boarder? 200 yards and hit a surfer? 500 yards and hit a fishing boat? People are not just on the beach. As for not flying over water if you can’t swim, I can swim just fine, but if the water is 50 degrees, I’ll succumb to hypothermia regardless. Sometimes despite our best efforts not to hurt anyone or do any damage, people get hurt and things get broke. I think we should give the pilot the benefit of the doubt that he did what he thought was the best thing to do under the circumstances, and accept that accidents happen. If he’s like most pilots, he’ll be much harder than that on himself.

  23. David E
    David E says:

    As a fellow SW Fla. pilot who spends much of his time flying over the Marco Island/Naples coast lines, this event brought to the fore front a situation which I have always had nagging my in the back of my mind. I too have always developed a habit of observed where the concentrated parts of the beaches are located, what areas of the shore are least populated etc.. I supposed the bottom line is this, it’s my feeling that I accept the risk(s) associated with flying an aircraft, whereas those who are enjoying themselves at ground level should not have to be held accountable for my decisions. It’s my belief that the best course of action in a situation like this, is minimize the threat of injury to all those involved, but especially those who are truly innocent bystanders, put the place down near the shore as practical and tread a few feet of water to dry land. Are the risks associated with this landing? Of course, but those risks are concentrated on me and any passengers who at the very least are well aware prepared (to some degree at least) for the outcome. It’s a sad outcome to see a young father and his daughter lose their lives over an incident where they had not even the slightest idea there was a threat, and in my opinion, it was absolutely avoidable.

  24. PCH
    PCH says:

    It has been suggested that the pilot should have landed in the water. However, had he made that decision it could also have resulted in causalities as this is a popular beach and quite likely there could have been people in the water close to shore also. Some local anti-airport activist, and one in particular, in Venice have used this tragedy to renew their attacks on the Venice Airport (non-towered)even though this accident was only peripherally related to Venice. The plane was not stationed there and it was not as far as we know the destination. Tough decision for any pilot and tragic for all in this instance.

  25. Braveheart
    Braveheart says:

    A very sad scenario. I do feel for the pilot and especially for the family. Yes the pedestrians had every right to be there. I have been a pilot for eight years and a commercial pilot for three. In my training here in Australia my instructor and I discussed and practiced forced landings like all of us I assume. The difference was in the classroom one on one we talked about ditching and like some of the other respondents since then I have routinely reviewed the process in my own time. What would I have done in this case ? Ditch no two ways about it. Again like some of the respondents I routinely carry the necessary equipment to ditch if I am near or over water. Also I am a very competent swimmer. It is easy for us to discuss and maybe pass judgement sitting in our armchair however the facts remain in our training we are taught to land without power a glide approach is flatter and slower in preparation for landing were are taught to view the area. Very sad thoughts go out to all concerned. I have never been in the position of a forced landing. I was taught to routinely practice it a few times a year and have done so. I had a special instructor who I gelled with very well maybe that was why her teachings stuck i am not sure, to prepare for ditching requires a lot of courage but we, on a daily basis defy the laws of physics by flying, and courage has to be our middle name. We must make split second decisions to protect those around us and sadly this should have included those on the beach. As I said easy to pass judgement sitting in our chair at home but in this case ditching, in my opinion, was the only safe option.

  26. Low Wings
    Low Wings says:

    I suppose it’s too much to expect that the pilot/owner/operator of the aircraft would have operated/maintained/inspected the aircraft in such a manner that would have precluded a loss of power. Aircraft engines do not generally fail as a result of some wholly unanticipated or unforeseen random event, and if/when the underlying cause(s) are identified, the chances are good that such cause(s) will be traceable back to errors of omission by the pilot/owner/operator and a failure to identify and mitigate the risks in this flight.

    I don’t have the faintest idea what might have caused the engine to stop, but what is certain is that a properly maintained, inspected and operated engine with an adequate supply of fuel/oil will not suddenly stop working! Shouldn’t that arena be the first area of inquiry rather than trying to dissect the pilot’s actions when faced with a loss of power — elimination of unmitigated risks rather than reliance on heroics and snap judgments in the midst of an amygdala hijack.

    Any forced landing as a result of power loss in a single engine plane is a crap shoot that is unlikely to have a happy ending, regardless of the number of times such maneuvers are rehearsed. Most end up at the end of a debris trail in a smoking hole. These folks in the aircraft were incredibly lucky to have survived — the hapless victims on the beach, not so much!

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      As an A&P mechanic for the past thirty three years you can never fully know when an engine is going to fail. You can have the best equipment maintained with no expense spared and that is no guarantee that something will not fail. Sure if you fly crap and don’t maintain it the chances are better you’ll have problems but in this case we don’t know what the circumstances were as far as the mechanical state of his engine. I’ve dealt with soooooooooooo many owners who just want to spend the minimum necessary to be called airworthy. I’ve also seen brand spanking new aircraft engines let go. If he is guilty of not maintaining his aircraft to a safe standard then I have no sympathy for the pilot but we don’t know this. You are correct there is usually signs, but not always.

  27. AJ
    AJ says:

    Are there any mechanisms or equipment that exist to warn that a plane is incoming in vicinity to civilians in an emergency situation (such as this no engine loss causing loss of sound to those below) that the pilot could use? Such as police and firetrucks use sirens to warn people…maybe something should be invented for GA aircraft for these type of situations.

    Student Pilot.

  28. John Swallow
    John Swallow says:

    Without getting mired in an argument of whether or not you should be flying off shore in the first place, if you are doing so, what duty of care do you have towards any passengers who are flying with you? In other words, if your aircraft is forced down, is your main job to minimize any threat of injury to personnel on the ground or to minimize potential injury to your passengers. To use an example to which we can all relate: US Airways Flight 1549 and the forced-landing in the Hudson. If, ten seconds before touchdown,a boat with a half-dozen people were seen to be in the touchdown area, what action would you expect “Sully” to carry out…?

    (It is understood that Capt Sullenberger was thrust into the situation and was not the architect of his adventure into the Hudson, unlike the pilot in Florida. The question is still valid, though; what duty of care is to be accorded the passengers in either case)

  29. John Smith
    John Smith says:

    Living near the coast I have often thought of the beach as a last resort site to land. A few things I always consider is the current conditions, if it is a nice “beach day” the beaches are probably packed. I also consider the time of year. In the winter it would be a challenge to find 2 people closer than a mile together.

    • Marc Rodstein
      Marc Rodstein says:

      “ In the winter it would be a challenge to find 2 people closer than a mile together. ”.

      You obviously don’t live in Venice, Florida. I have seen that beach so packed on a winter day that you couldn’t ride a bicycle without hitting people.

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I’m amazed that some people have the arrogance to place blame on this pilot
    He didn’t see anyone on the beach and considered it a safe place to land
    I spoke with one of the first medics that attended the scene, he told me the accident victims were walking in the water
    Be a good idea if the ‘experts’ kept their amature opinions to themselves and let the FAA evaluate the facts and publish the facts
    Anyone of us could, God forbid, have been that pilot
    God bless the victims and their family, God also bless the pilot who has to live the rest of his life probably wishing he had also perished that fateful day

    • Hans
      Hans says:

      one comment I have not read: it is very much more difficult to visually notice an object that is stationary in regard to any left or right movement. This would apply to the path of the plane and the pedestrians in this case

    • Hans
      Hans says:

      one comment I have not read: it is very much more difficult to visually notice an object that is stationary in regard to any left or right movement. This would apply to the path of the plane and the pedestrians in this case

  31. Kelly Conley
    Kelly Conley says:

    I am just a student pilot but why not have a hand held air horn in the plane? You could pop the window open and at least let people know you are behind them.

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  35. Low Wings
    Low Wings says:

    I posted a comment on this mishap a couple of years ago and about a month after it happened and about a month before the preliminary NTSB report was published with concerns about the condition and airworthiness of the aircraft. At the time very little was known about this incident other than the fact that it happened and two innocent people were dead.

    I’ve read the preliminary NTSB report and I’m even more suspicious that the actions (and inactions) of the PIC were primary factors leading up to loss of power and that after the engine started running rough, the stoppage was assured after the fuel selector was turned “off” which is the position that it was found in by the investigators.

    First, the plane had not been flown for a substantial period of time (3 1/2 months) before the accident flight. Second, the planes’ fuel tanks were only partially full (3/4 and 1/2) while it had been sitting in the humid Florida climate for that period of time. There is a high probability that a substantial amount of water had accumulated in the partially filled tanks. And third, there is no mention that the PIC drained (sumped) the tanks before the flight. The rough mag checks may not have been mag problems at all, only some water passing into the system, continuing in larger quantities after departure leading to a rough running engine.

    The PIC indicated to investigators that he switched tanks after the engine started running rough, but it’s more than likely he turned the fuel off in a panic rather than to a different tank which definitely would have led to engine stoppage. In a post-crash test, the engine ran fine after removal from the beach.

    I acknowledge this is pure speculation, but it fits the facts as we know them and it underscores the need for a thorough preflight check(list). If something doesn’t seem just right, it probably isn’t and checklists are omitted/skipped at the peril of the flight.

    Never get in a hurry with an airplane!

    • Duane Truitt
      Duane Truitt says:

      Low Wings – Your speculation is not well grounded on several counts. The fuel selector was found in the “off” position per a photo taken in the cockpit after the accident. That is the position called for in the loss of power checklist for the Piper when the engine cannot be restarted. The mag switch was also found in the off position, also as called for in the checklist. The mixture control was in the full rich position as well as the throttle found full forward, which is not what is called for in the checklist. Nobody can conclude based upon that data that the pilot “panicked” and that by turning off the fuel he directly caused the loss of power.

      Second, the notion that there is a high probability of lots of condensed water in the fuel tanks after the aircraft sat unused for several months is also not supported by any factual finding or even any strong probability. High natural humidity in the summer or not, if the Piper fuel tank caps are in good condition and properly seated they would not allow large quantities of liquid water to enter the fuel tank, while the tank vents don’t effectively ventilate the tank – they just relieve any pressure differential. Large quantities of liquid water condensing in the fuel tanks would be especially unlikely in the hot summer months of coastal south Florida when the dewpoint is typically several degrees lower than the daily low temperature, making water condensation inside the tank physically impossible.

      I own and fly a Cherokee 180 that I keep here in southwest Florida … this aircraft is a nearly identical predecessor of the PA-28-181 aircraft in this accident. I have never experienced any water in the sumps after years of flying it here in Florida and elsewhere (though I always check the sumps as part of every preflight and refueling).

      In any event, if there was a lot of water condensed in the tank, it would have shown up much sooner in poor engine performance given that the aircraft went through a normal runup, and then took off and was airborne for “10 to 15 minutes” per the preliminary NTSB accident report. The fact that the report did not mention the pilot sumping the tanks only indicates that the NTSB investigators did not ask any questions of the accident pilot in that regard.

      We may never know the cause of the temporary loss of power in this accident. The NTSB has still not published the final accident report, though the preliminary report said “Research of engine electrical, air induction and fuel delivery systems continues.” The preliminary tests shortly after the accident, as you indicated, showed no obvious issues with the engine or fuel system, with the engine easily starting up after being fueled with the same gas pulled from the aircraft’s fuel tanks.

      Rather than assuming the accident pilot somehow panicked and turned his fuel off, the much more logical explanation is that the pilot experienced a loss of power for whatever reason, and given that the aircraft was at only 1,000 feet AGL and was losing altitude quickly, the pilot simply had very little time to attempt an engine restart before necessarily focusing his attention on making a safe off-airport landing. The pilot told the NTSB that he was worried about his fixed gear aircraft flipping upside down in a ditching in the deeper water offshore, and so he searched for a spot on the land with no people on it. That he waivered between a ditching and a beach landing indicates that he probably spent some significant time evaluating his options after the engine re-start failed. With a power-off glide in the Piper, the pilot was losing altitude at something near 700 to 800 feet per minute, starting at around 1,000 feet. He likely spent at least 30 seconds trying to restart his engine (switching both fuel tanks and mags) and deciding on the best landing option; by that point the pilot’s options were extremely limited.

      Lessons learned:

      (1) Don’t drag a populated beach at low altitude unless you’re already prepared to ditch well offshore. There just isn’t enough time at low altitude to ensure that the beach is cleared, or even to ensure that the near-shore waters where swimmers, boaters, surfers, etc. are clear of the aircraft’s landing zone.

      (2) If you can’t bring yourself to ditch your aircraft to protect innocent beach and water users, then stay up high and within gliding range of a suitable unpopulated landing site.

Comments are closed.