Mountain flying is a dangerous undertaking in most general aviation aircraft. Recently an old Cessna 172 flying in the mountains crashed in a valley in Utah.

No one has looked at the wreckage to see if a mechanical failure brought the airplane down but examination of pictures of the wreckage reveal that it did not break apart in the air and crashed at the bottom of a deep valley.

Here are a few observations that may bear on the cause of this accident. The airplane was full of people and that made it heavy if not overweight. On its best day a Cessna 172, of that vintage built in the 70’s, fully loaded at sea level may climb at 800 feet/minute. Above sea level like in the mountains and in warm temperatures that climb rate can go to just a few hundred feet a minute.

Depending on the winds in the valleys and on the downslopes of the mountains, downdrafts in excess of 3000 feet per minute are common. Even eddies of unstable warm air rising and descending unevenly in the valleys can cause turbulence and downdrafts which far exceed the ability of a loaded C-172 to outclimb them. In fact the terrain itself will rise at a rate faster than this aircraft can outclimb it.

Some of the most experienced mountain flyers and even gurus in mountain flying have perished doing what…flying in the mountains!

This aircraft’s engine must be carefully examined to see if a loss of power contributed to this tragedy but flying small planes in the mountains have and will continue to produce this kind of accident because when trouble rears its ugly head there is no place to go.

The Wolk Law Firm has successfully handled countless mountain flying accidents.

Arthur Alan Wolk

July 7, 2020

The seaplane midair accident over the lake in Cour d’Alene, Idaho  brings to tragic attention how dangerous sightseeing flights over scenic areas can be for the occupants of these aircraft.

As an Airline Transport Pilot also for single and multi-engine seaplanes, I can attest first hand that the concept of “see and avoid” which is how the FAA expects pilots to keep from hitting each other is especially ineffective when flying over an attractive natural wonder like the lake at Cour d’ Alene. There are so many in flight distractions from watching boats on the lake, to embracing the site of the surrounding hills and the brilliant natural foliage, it is difficult to see in the first place let alone avoid another aircraft competing for those distractions. 

The only way such a flight should ever be attempted is using the latest traffic avoidance technology such as TCAS or TCAD and communicating with air traffic control, in this case Spokane Approach Control, to obtain traffic avoidance assistance when able. Flying low over the lake, while exciting diminishes the effectiveness of this equipment and traffic advisories. Seaplanes because of their pontoons for flotation are just not as maneuverable as their land based counterparts. They are heavier and less aerodynamic so getting out of the way of an impending collision can be difficult.

The loss of so many people is beyond description as would be the loss of just one person.

Safe flying is no accident and perhaps some guidance from the FAA and careful training to use all available means to avoid a mid-air collision will be helpful in the future but for now sorting out the liability for the mishap and getting compensation for the victims is a matter of first importance. 

Arthur Alan Wolk

July 7th, 2020