CASARA corner will return at a later date. In the meantime please enjoy this past article from the wonderful Bill Dimmer from August 2014! With all news of any accidents, people always ask the same two questions (one specific and one generic); what went wrong, and, is it safe to fly? As a person with more than 20 years of SAR experience, there is often an expectation that I should have definitive answers for the first question. Is the 777 missing actually in the South China Sea? Since complete information is rarely released to the public in a timely fashion it is most likely that any speculations drawn from that information will be wrong. The only people with access to all the pertinent information (assuming governments and vested interests such as the airline have and make available information) are the people actually involved in the search. That information is reasonably withheld from the public for several important reasons (such as making the crash location indefinite to ensure easy access for emergency crews and avoiding crash scene “contamination”, avoiding issues of people feeling they have responsibility or who may feel guilty coming forward, sparing family and friends from sensationalist reporting, and many other valid issues). Therefore, most people with enough background to hazard a guess will be the first to avoid doing so. Having said all that, there are some incidents which are so curious, like the missing Malasia Flight 370, that discussion is very hard to avoid. Just the place for another old saying “we don’t know what we don’t know” Let’s look at the second question. Here is the important statistic, there have been 2 deaths per 100 million passengers on commercial flights (excluding terror attacks) in the last 10 yrs (Rueters). That means you are much more likely to die on the road to airport. In the United States the statistic is 30,000 motor vehicle deaths
EVERY YEAR (to say nothing of the many thousands more injured). That’s a mortality rate 8 times greater than planes. (My apologies for not having Canadian statistics but the point is the same). Unfortunately, the mortality rate in general aviation is higher than commercial airliners (but still better than automobiles). Pilots frequently are made aware of recent accidents (Aviation Safety Letter and virtually every other aviation publication) not because we are morbid but as an educational and planning tool. (Wouldn’t it be nice if car drivers spent time and thought on that). A big part of the safety issue in general aviation has little to do with the inherent safety of the endeavour and everything to do with pilot decision making, especially weather and fuel. Remember, your best defence is a good plan within your known limits AND your ability and willingness to change if the situation demands (eg. weather not doing what it was supposed to). Scud running when a safe haven airport is close at hand or in a path of more clear weather, continued VFR into IMC, even not going to an airport a ways from home to avoid a crosswind beyond yours or the airplanes limit are situations that fill the statistics books. Flying small airplanes is pretty much as safe as YOU choose to make it. As a sidebar, in SAR we train on not disturbing a site and perhaps more important the dangers of things exploding. Tires, fire extinguishers, ballistic parachute, oxygen bottles etc. are all potential IEDs when exposed to the heat of a post crash fire OR even the friction of an off airport landing.
Our little airplanes are unbelievably robust in a crash situation but wouldn’t it be stupid if you walked out of the crash only to be done in by moving potential dangerous goods to get your hat? After all is said and done you truly are as safe as you choose to be. Besides, safe is fun!