Date of accident: 03.04.99

Time of accident: 0914Z

Aircraft registration: ZS-PEW

Type of aircraft: Beech A36 (Bonanza)

Pilot age: 42

Licence type: PPL

Pilot-in-command flying experience: Total flying hours: 114.3

Hours on type: 79.1

Last point of departure: Klerksdorp - Darlington Dam

Next point of intended landing: Paradise Beach

Location of the accident site: 7nm northwest of Port Elizabeth

Meteorological information: Wind 100°/04kts, scattered cloud 900 feet and overcast 2500 feet with recent rain.

Number of people on board: 1

No. of people injured: 0

No. of people killed: 1

The pilot was en route from Klerksdorp to Paradise Beach on a VFR flight plan. Due to IMC conditions he was advised by ATC to land at Darlington Dam until conditions improved. The pilot landed at Darlington Dam and remained on the ground for between one and two hours. He then took-off and proceeded to Paradise Beach. He was radar identified on the transpoder code 6115 with no mode C (height) readout available. He encountered low clouds en route and was advised by ATC to land at Uitenhage or to execute a 180° turn and return to Darlington Dam. He was getting low on fuel, the cloud kept on coming in and he was unable to maintain visual reference to the ground. He was then advised to fly to Port Elizabeth but radar contact was lost. The aircraft wreckage was located 45 minutes later.

On a VFR flight the non-instrument rated pilot entered instrument meteorological conditions. In an attempt to remain VFR, he failed to maintain adequate terrain clearance, resulting in the aircraft colliding with terrain.

Jim’s analysis
On the surface this looks like a pretty standard prang. It involves all the elements that we know we should avoid. Poor decision making, get-there-itis, poor flight planning, insufficient fuel, non-instrument pilot continues flight into IMC etc. Any one of these is likely to kill you, but chucking them all into the same bag is pretty certain to do the job. One has to ask why a pilot, who has presumably heard of all these deathtraps, would just go ahead and do them anyway.

The answer lies, at least partially, in the pilot’s total hours combined with the type of aircraft. A guy with just over 100 hours total doesn’t fly my family on long cross-countries in the likes of a Bonanza, a 210, a Mooney or a Comanche. Yes, I know he could have done the same thing in a Cherokee or a 172, but guys in hot ships tend to think they are hot pilots. I’m going into serious speculation mode, but it looks as if this guy bought his Bonanza either during his PPL training or immediately afterwards. Now why would he believe that he was competent to fly a fancy aeroplane like that at 40 or 50 hours, when most experienced pilots reckon 200 hours plus is a sensible figure?

It’s because someone in authority, or someone he respects, told him he can. And who would that person be? His instructor? An aircraft salesman? Or perhaps both of them, after a little business discussion in the corridor. It stinks. Those guys have, for their own gain, endangered his life by telling him he’s a pretty sharp pilot.

You don’t like my speculation? Then think about this: do you imagine he would be flying that aircraft if his instructor told him it was well out of reach and it would be dangerous? No? So the instructor was in on the deal. If not his own instructor, then a tame one that the nice salesman brought along to convert him to his shiny new aeroplane. I’m afraid it’s a very common story, and it stinks.

We have all heard of the guy who learned to fly from scratch on a Bonanza, and we know about military pilots training from day one on Harvards. These are exceptions. I believe the man in the street should have at least 200 hours before he gets into the hot seat of a hot ship.

What can we learn?
It’s all about decision making:

1. The decision to take off from Darlington Dam rather than count off on his fingers the things that were ganging up against him. Bad weather, low fuel, get-there-itis, low experience, and over-confidence. If he had checked these off he might have said, “I’ll just stay on the ground until the dice are stacked in my favour”. 

2. The decision to buy or fly an aeroplane that was beyond his skills and experience levels.

3. The decision to fly towards known bad weather with insufficient fuel to divert.

4. The decision to fly into bad weather rather than do a precautionary on a road.

5. The decision to let the reason for the flight dominate his own reason. It’s called ‘get-there-it is’, and it’s a killer.

6. Finally, overconfidence is the biggest killer. It kicks out common sense and intelligent decision making. It allows passengers, friends, bosses and salesmen to bully you out of your comfort zone.

Jim Davis has 15,000 hours of immensely varied flying experience, including 10,000 hours civil and military flying instruction. He is an established author, his current projects being an instructors’ manual and a collection of Air Accident analyses, called ‘Choose not to Crash’.

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