One of the key directives in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) 91.113 is the responsibility to” See and Avoid”. Hard to do when closure rates are measured in a few seconds.
When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.
See-and-avoid involves a number of steps, all of which are inherently prone to error. First, the pilot must be looking outside the aircraft, which statistically is less with new glass cockpits. Second, pilots must search the visual field and detect objects of interest, most likely with their peripheral vision. Next, the object must be looked at directly so it can be identified as an aircraft. If the aircraft is identified as a collision threat, the pilot must decide what evasive action to take. Sometimes it’s impossible to be fast enough.
The mood couldn’t have been more relaxed aboard an executive jet carrying three Incline residents as it began its descent towards Reno-Tahoe International Airport Monday afternoon.Mike Chipman was dozing while his wife, Evy, read a book. Steve DiZio was also reading and occasionally looked-up to check the flight’s progress on a GPS read-out.
Then, they heard what sounded like an explosion coming from the cockpit. The cabin depressurized and the plane veered to the right before going into a steep dive. “The pilot had just put on the seat belt sign, and a few minutes afterwards there was this explosion …a really loud bang or crash from the cockpit,” recalled DiZio, a retired high-tech start-up manager.
Traveling from the Carlsbad Airport in San Diego , the Hawker 800XP jet struck a glider in a mid-air collision at 16,000 feet over the Pine Nut Mountains southeast of Carson City .The accident, which took place at about 3:10 pm., destroyed the jet’s nose cone and the glider whose pilot, Japanese citizen and 30-year glider veteran, Akihiro Hirao, parachuted safely back to earth.
The pilot quickly brought the jet back under control as the three startled passengers secured their oxygen mask. After deducing that the damage to the starboard wing, part of which had caved-in and was leaking fuel vapor, was too extensive to have been caused by a bird, and that they would all be dead if they had struck another conventional airplane, passenger Mike Chipman, a part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, surmised the truth.
Though the passengers didn’t know it at the time, the starboard engine had failed. Moreover, part of the glider had ripped its way through the plane’s nose and into the instrument dash, causing it to burst into the pilot’s face and lap. Despite a gash to her chin, pilot Annette Saunders remained in control throughout the remainder of the flight, even after a two-foot piece of the nose structure had bent its way in front of the cockpit window.After passing the Carson City Airport , the pilot swung the plane around to bring it in for an emergency landing. As they leveled-out, the co-pilot turned and yelled over the noise that they had lost control of their landing gear and would skid to a halt on the aircraft’s belly.
“The landing was as smooth as you could imagine, not even a bump,” DiZio said. “We stayed on the runway right up to the end, so she (the pilot) must have had that just perfectly lined-up even with the crosswinds.”
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Great poise and skill by the pilot. Of course it might not have happened if the glider pilot had turned on his transponder.
Another avoidable brush with disaster. In the last 20 years 60 mid air collisions or “near miss” incidents have occurred between air carriers/ corporate traffic and gliders. While I’m not a proponent for more regulation, I think the FAA ought to make transponders required equipment for any aircraft that operate at altitudes frequented by jets. Sometimes common sense isn’t.
H/T to Rob for the story