When things go really wrong…
In this LESSON we’ll go over just a few of the many things that can go wrong when operating an airplane, especially under IFR. While we can’t go over every possible scenario you may face in an airplane (there’s an infinite number of things that potentially could go wrong), we will give you a few ideas you can use when the time comes to make a PIC decision to maintain the safety of your flight.
NTSB Case Study
The instrument-rated pilot was on an IFR X/C at 7,000 above the clouds when he reported to air traffic control that the airplane had experienced a vacuum pump failure and that he had lost the associated gyroscopic instruments and part of the instrument panel. The pilot continued toward the destination airport because it had the best weather conditions compared to alternate nearby airports; however, after accepting radar vectors for the GPS approach to the airport, he reported that the airplane had entered (IMC) and that he had lost a “little bit” of control. He then reported that more of the instruments had failed and that he was trying to get back to 7,000 ft. Shortly after, the controller provided the pilot with the weather conditions at a closer airport and asked him if he would like to try to land there; however, no further communications were received from the pilot. The last RADAR data showed the aircraft descending at 12,000fpm before it broke apart and was scattered over about a 0.4 mile track. The vacuum pump was 17 years old at the time of the accident.
Contributing to the accident, was ATC not realizing how bad the situation was, as they tried multiple times to descend him into IMC even when he stated he wanted to stay VFR, but he eventually accepted a lower altitude to start a partial panel approach at his destination in IMC.
The pilot’s loss of airplane control while operating in IMC with only a partial instrument panel due to a failure of the airplane’s vacuum pump. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s spatial disorientation and the operation of the vacuum pump beyond the 6-year time limit recommended by the vacuum pump manufacturer. I’ll add that another factor was ATC’s lack of recognition of how bad the situation was until it was too late, and same for the pilot. The pilot should have immediately declared an emergency and impressed upon ATC exactly what he needed and that he was unable to enter into IMC without likely losing control of the aircraft.
Pilot: 66 years old, 4,000 total flight hours