27 May 2008

Something's Happened

I'm at work.
I'm bummed enough that I almost called in sick tonight, although I'm not sick...
Well, not physically sick anyway. I'm heartsick.
Let me draw your attention to this post from a few months ago over at John's blog. Read the post. Read the comments... all of 'em.
It's important.

On more than one occasion I have helped take car keys away from someone too drunk to get into a car and drive. One of those instances literally resulted in one friend striking another in the face, knocking him off his feet in order to let him know we were serious that he would not drive away while we watched.
In the morning, ALL of these drunks were glad we did what we did.
But this is different...

When you allow someone to get into your aircraft as a passenger, you are, in effect, establishing a contract with them. This taken-for-granted contract says, "If you get into my flying machine, I promise to deliver you safely back to the ground."
As pilots, we are telling our passengers, "Yes, even if something goes terribly wrong with the machine, or if the weather does something unforeseen, I am trained and capable of handling the situation."

But like the pilot-subject of John's post, we've all seen pilots we knew in our heart were unsafe. Most pilots have pretty big egos. When does the big ego become a problem, and what can the rest of us do about it?

Some months ago I got into the rear seat, as a passenger, of an aircraft piloted by a guy I felt was competent. Two aircraft were flying to a restaurant fifteen minutes away for dinner. We took off and I was immediately uncomfortable... this pilot was flying fast and low-level...
at treetop level for the majority of the flight. Five minutes into the flight I said, "Hey ********, I am REALLY not comfortable flying this low!" My friend chuckled and said, "you're not, huh?", and continued flying fast and low until we arrived at our destination. I flew home in the other aircraft and never flew with the guy again.

Now he's had a terrible accident, and for his benefit and mine I won't share details with you, except to say HE survived.

Could I...
SHOULD I have done more to get this guy's attention? To illustrate to this guy the risks he was taking could be disastrous?
This guy knew me, respected my opinion, and in fact might never have become a pilot had I not trained him for a short time. Yet when I cautioned him about his risky attitude, he laughed and shrugged it off. If I had made a bigger deal of it, he would have been angry and I likely would have lost his friendship... and it's doubtful his behavior would have changed anyway.

But now his life and behavior are changed forever.
And my heart aches.
Tell me...
What should I have done? Is there anything we can do to prevent such accidents, short of hitting someone and knocking them off their feet?


Anonymous said...

As you know, pilots.. even at the PP level are trained to make good decisions. It's part of the overall program. It's required.

There are two schools of thought with this. One is personal responsibility is paramount and if another pilot is screwing up it's his problem. He's been trained the same as I have and he's choosing to make bad decisions. That's the old school thought...

The "new" school of thought is that if I don't stop someone from doing something stupid it's somehow my problem.

I don't agree with this new thinking. It really brings to light the problems in our society when I am forced to take responsibilityf or both my actions and the actions of others. The result tends to be laws created by "me" to prevent "you" from hurting yourself. These laws violate personal freedoms on the premise that if "I" make them "you" can't hurt yourself and then "I" won't feel guilty because "you" were breaking the law.

I've let people drive drunk before because it's not my fault that they lack personal responsibility enough to take the right track. I WILL tell them that they're too drunk to drive. I WILL refuse to ride with them and seek my own transportation. Hell, I'll even throw thier bail the next morning to get them out of jail but I WILL NOT make thier problem my own and feel guilty about not doing it.

I don't drink and drive. I don't fly unsafely. If I see someone about to do something stupid I'll point out to them that they're an idiot. Beyond that, it's not my problem. I have an entire life to manage and can't be bothered managing someone elses. It's not my job, it's not my responsibility and most of all it's not my right.

I know that this isn't a popular view but it's the one I have. :)

nec Timide said...

Hava a look at this Occurrence Report. One benefit of flying in a military system is that all flight occurrences receive detailed scrutiny that they may not from civil authorities (especially in Canada, but that is another matter). I think the DFS's comments are germane to all three accidents.

I used to rent a C172 at a small flying club. I had booked the airplane to take a number of people sight seeing. During inspection I found the airplane had an instrument snag that rendered it unairworthy by Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), so I wrote up the snag, notified maintenance and canceled the flights. I was surprised to learn that the aircraft was release, without repair, to another pilot. When I approached her to ensure she was aware that she was about to operate in contravention of CARs she told me to "leave her alone".

Pilots absorb culture from other pilots, and like any one else, tend to gravitate to other like minded people. In groups their attitudes are reinforced and difficult to change. We need to speak out, but we also need to accept that some won't listen. What you're doing here helps.

cary said...

I'm mixed on this one - I fully stand behind personal responsibility and accountability for your own actions. Yes, there are times when you can (and should) say something to someone who is about to take part in an unsafe activity, but that's where YOUR accountability ends - once you have voiced your concerns, if you wish to voice them, then it is up the person you are addressing to take action and be personal;y accountable for what THEY do with the proffered advice.

In the case of the pilot in John's post - she may well have told anyone interfering with HER decisions to bugger off. Since the FBO had offered her deice several times and she refused each time, she was obviously not going to let some guy tell her how to live her life.

When we, as responsible adults, make mention of unsafe or unwise situations, we are using our common sense. Turning those thoughts into laws, as anonymous pointed out, turns this country into a nanny state. Allowing idiots to make bad decisions and suffering the consequences of those decisions, in the end, frees up resources for those of us who employ the rules of common sense more frequently.

That's why I have no problem with adults who drive around not strapped in, or ride their bikes without helmets. It's their choice, and more power to them.

Again, another reason I am viewed as being a hard-hearted SOB at times.

John said...

Sorry about your friend. As a young 300 hour pilot, I have to say that something that changed my perspective was reading this: