Does Reporting On Accidents Hurt GA?
Aero-Views Opinion by ANN Associate Editor Rob Finfrock
The past several days
have been tough ones for general aviation... with two high-profile
accidents related to the recent AirVenture gathering at Oshkosh, as
well as an earlier fatal accident at Wittman Field on July 23.
Sadly, Aero-News had learned of yet another accident this
weekend... that also had a connection to Oshkosh. Heather McRoberts
was all of 18 days old when she took her first airplane ride... and
she soloed in a glider on her 14th birthday, just as her mother and
Aero-News E-I-C Jim Campbell recalls a few years ago, McRoberts
was one-half of a team who flew two Luscombes to AirVenture. By the
age of 18, she had earned her commercial license. That was one year
McRoberts, along with fellow pilot David Para, were flying a
Citabria (file photo of type, right) near Rollinsville, CO Sunday,
when for some reason they failed to clear a mountain ridge. Both
died on impact. McRoberts was all of 19; Para had turned 30 the day
"They were the two best
pilots we ever had," said John Pafford, manager of Mile High
Gliding in Boulder where they both worked. "This is an extreme
McRoberts' grandmother, Ann, told the Rocky Mountain News that
Heather had not yet decided on what path her flying experience
would take her... a missionary pilot, an astronaut, or flying left
seat on commercial airliners. Such is the joy of being 19; you have
all the time in the world to make decisions like that.
"It's just a tragedy," Ann McRoberts said. "To lose a child...
her father said he's lost his favorite flying pal."
Aero-News hates -- hates -- reporting on such
accidents... and we've had to do so far too often of late. They are
reminders of our all-too-human frailties, and of the risks we all
take when we step into the cockpit. For many of us, we are also
reporting on the deaths of friends.
And while it's true that we all take far greater risks when
traveling in our cars to the airports where our planes are based...
it is hard to ignore the scope of accidents that have hit our
An older couple crashes just short of the runway arriving at
AirVenture; an experienced pilot runs off the runway flying his
vintage F-86 as he was taking off in preparation to head to Wittman
Field. To add insult to injury, he had landed the plane with nary a
scratch months before, after a gear malfunction.
Two pilots lost when the prototype jet they were flying
flips on a runway in Utah... victims, apparently, of misrigged
ailerons. The pilot of a Legend Cub lost, after successfully
ditching the plane in Lake Michigan. He was able to make it out of
the cockpit, aiding the passenger who would later be rescued...
only to himself drown after the plane went under.
And perhaps the cruelest of all... a man is lost after a ground
collision on a taxiway at Wittman Field, as he and the pilot of
their RV-6 were readying to leave the show Sunday. The pilot,
seated next to the man, survived with only a scratch... and the
dreadful memories of his experience. No doubt, the same goes for
the two people in the warbird that collided with the small
Final causes of all these accidents have not been determined.
When those decisions are posted, Aero-News will be reporting
them... as we do with all accidents where we feel other pilots may
gain knowledge from reading of the experience.
It is not for shock value; it is not to pontificate. It is so we
all may learn.
Some of our readers have
taken issue with our reporting of these accidents lately... saying
that by doing so, we're doing more to hurt the cause of general
aviation than mass-media outlets, with their shocking headlines
("Airplane Careens Into Lake Michigan" is a particularly egregious
one) and breathless accounts of such accidents.
Needless to say, the ANN staff disagrees with that assessment of
our reporting... but we also take it as warning to never fall into
that very trap.
In just over a year, I've had to report on many such accidents.
From the very first one up to the latest... they have all had an
impact on me, as they likely have with all of us. All must be
treated with the utmost respect... which often means holding such
facts as the victims' identities, until we are absolutely certain
the families are already aware.
On a personal level, I have taken lessons away from each
accident I've had to write about... which, when the time comes
where I have to handle a crisis in the cockpit, I may hopefully be
able to utilize.
What I have also learned, however, is that for every pilot,
there is the possibility of a price we may someday have to
bear. That is the price of our passion; the chance that
despite all our preparations, our skills, and our training...
something may still go wrong when we fly. (Or drive. Or step out of
bed in the morning.)
And if something should go wrong... we only hope that others may
learn from our experience, so it won't happen again.
That attitude doesn't lessen the hurt and pain of heartrending
tragedy... but when it comes to flying, it does strengthen the
pilot community as a whole, and helps all of us to be better
citizens of the sky.
It is an unfair tradeoff... but also a way for something of a
positive to come from a cruel negative.