Three pilots survive San Marcos collision
When I used to fly planes for a living, there were only a few things that really increased my anxiety. One, was having to fly through a wide area of embedded thunderstorms. Meaning, I was flying on instruments through rain clouds that included thunderstorm cells that could rip the wings from the plane if they were big enough. The only way to avoid them was to rely on the onboard weather radar, which had its flaws. I could choose not to fly, which I did on at least a couple of occasions, but flying charters, the pressure is always on to get to the destination. Business meetings planned, etc.
The other big worry was being involved in a mid-air collision, because it’s rare to survive one. It’s almost as bad as having a wing fall off the fuselage. Good luck with that scenario.
In San Marcos, however, early last Thursday evening, two planes collided on short final to Runway 8. The sky was entirely clear, visibility unlimited, and yet, they still found a way to collide. Thankfully, the instructor and student onboard the Cessna 172, and the guy flying the Team Rockets F1 Experimental aircraft weren’t seriously injured. If you look at photos of the crash, it’s hard to believe that there were no fatalities. The 172 is upside down on the runway, and the experimental aircraft is engulfed in planes, lying mangled by the side of Runway 8.
Listening to the raw audio just before the crash, the control tower was apparently closed at the time of the crash, so the pilots were basically policing themselves, like they do at uncontrolled airports, each calling out their location, entering downwind, base, final. On the raw video, you can hear the Cessna 172 pilot (can’t tell if it’s the instructor or student) working the radio, but I can’t hear the pilot in the experimental plane announcing his location. Maybe he didn’t have a radio onboard, who knows.
According to at least one witness, both planes were on final at the same time, one slightly above the other, when they collided. Looking at the wreckage, it’s hard to figure out how the pilots could walk away, basically unscathed. Unfortunately for them, they’re now going to have to explain their story to the FAA. On top of that, the instructor is basically screwed if he can’t adequately defend his lack of quality airmanship, which includes not colliding with another airplane, especially in perfect weather. If he worked for me, he’d be fired. There is no way that the instructor can blame it on someone else.
Most general aviation aircraft don’t have collisionavoidance equipment onboard, unlike the bigger corporate planes and obviously, the airliners. So, in essence, flying VFR (visual flight rules), the plan to avoid a collision is to always be on the lookout for other airplanes. Before you enter a landing pattern at any airport that lacks a control tower, even one with a control tower, you’re monitoring the radio to listen for traffic. By the time you enter the landing pattern, you should already have a good handle on where the other airplanes are in the pattern. For those that lack a radio at an uncontrolled field (no control tower or approach control), you have to rely on sight to pick them out in the pattern.
The world isn’t perfect, however, and mistakes happen. Flying just demands more attention to the task at hand. Complacency in an airplane will kill you.
Funny story. The first time I soloed (in a Cessna 150) with approximately 11 hours under my belt, I was so nervous, feet shaking on the rudder pedals, that I completely cut off another plane on final. Thankfully, we didn’t collide. I wasn’t really listening to Unicom, 122.8, at the uncontrolled airport because the only thing on my mind was getting the plane back on the ground in one piece. Never saw the plane on final.
After I landed, I was feeling great until my instructor said to me, “You didn’t see that plane on final that you cut off?”
Uh, no. So much for my perfect first solo.
I think what saved these three San Marcos pilots is that the two planes collided close to the ground. They didn’t have far to fall. If I were them, I don’t know what I’d do other than look to the heavens and say, “Thanks.”