When I fly locally, I fly out of Peter O. Knight airport on Davis Islands. It's a nice small airport and very close to the house. It's also surrounded by water and development, which makes it fun to fly out of but somewhat unforgiving.
Today we're having a tropical storm. It's a dreadfully lousy day to fly and an even more dreadfully lousy day to fly a small airplane like a King Air 90. Granted, the King Air 90 is big as general aviation aircraft go, but this is a small airplane as far as I'm concerned and should not be flying into tropical storms.
A King Air 90 crashed at Peter O. Knight today. The pilot was killed, the other occupant of the plane went to the hospital with burns, and a cat and dog in the house the plane crashed into died (the human occupants were okay). Apparently the plane landed and skidded off the runway into the house. Bear in mind we're talking about a short, wet runway here, but given the severity of the crash there are clearly going to be mitigating factors.
This is a sad event and I'm not here to make jokes about it, but a news item on the local channel caught my attention. The NTSB will of course come down for an investigation and will release a report probably in the next six months about the ultimate cause of the accident. Normally the NTSB scrambles an accident investigation team within an hour of a crash's report, and they fly in to the location.
Not today. Because of the weather, the NTSB investigation team chose not to fly to Tampa. They're taking a bus. What should this say to pilots? Don't fly into tropical storms! The fellow who crashed took off from Sarasota this morning--a bit south of here but still feeling the full effects of the storm--tried to go to Orlando but was turned back because of severe thunderstorms, and chose to fly instead to Tampa and land at the smaller of our two general aviation airports, with only a non-precision approach in less than two miles visibility. No part of what this pilot did today was a good idea.
A few weeks ago I was looking forward to flying to Atlanta for a bachelor party. Even though the weather here in Tampa was gorgeous, it was sketchy in Atlanta and I couldn't be assured of safe landing conditions. I really wanted to go, but I made a smart decision not to risk flying into uncertain weather. I have over 1000 flight hours, so this was actually the voice of experience talking, not the voice of uncertainty.
I can't say how much flight time the pilot in today's accident had. He certainly had better flight equipment than I would have had I flown to Atlanta--probably an all glass cockpit (which is to say fancy electronic gadgets instead of good old-fashioned pitot-static instrumentation), GPS, hopefully an NDB receiver based on the instrument approach he was flying. And above all else, he was from Sarasota. He knew when he took off there was a tropical storm 100 miles offshore. He knew the weather was bad in Sarasota, worse in Tampa, and unlikely to be better in Orlando. The flight was so short he probably took off while the severe weather warning was in effect in Orlando. And he took off anyway.
We don't, and never will, know exactly why he chose to ignore his better judgment--I say better judgment because he must have heard the same voice I did, whether it was experience or uncertainty, telling him this was not a good day to fly. It's a shame that, on finding he couldn't land at Orlando, the pilot didn't divert southeast to Palm Beach or that vicinity, where he could have landed in clear air. Worse still is knowing that Sarasota is just an hour away by car on I-75, two hours from Orlando. If the pilot needed to be here for some reason, he had a much safer option available. But the car he could have driven here safely is still parked at the Sarasota airport. What a shame.