Aviation Accident Cause vs. Prevention


Knowing the Cause of an Accident Doesn’t Mean We Know How to Prevent ItFor the last 2 days the front page of the newspapers here in Vail Colorado have carried headlines of yet another unfortunate mountain crash.  In this latest accident the pilot was alone and crashed his Cessna 182 into the Holy Cross wilderness at 13,000 feet.  This early in the investigation nothing is known for sure, but as an outsider it sure looks like the typical scenario we see repeatedly here in the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Likely scenario…. sketchy weather, scud running through the mountains, VFR into IMC, possibly some ice and ultimately impact with the mountain.  Only 2 months ago, there was a similar outcome to very similar set of circumstances.  Even the same make an model aircraft… C-182, the only real difference being 4 dead rather than one.

Like all aviation accidents, eventually the NTSB will release their findings.  Those findings will probably provide a reasonably accurate cause of the accident… the NTSB will have examined the craft, pilot, weather, traffic, and any other element that could have possibly contributed.  That report will probably tell us about lack of situational awareness, bad decision making, factors of weather.  Overall, the NTSB does an excellent job of explaining why an accident occured, but they don’t explain how to prevent one.  Within aviation there is a broad assumption that as pilots, if we read enough accident reports explaining the causes then we will automatically understand accident prevention, and this is not the case. Two pilots will interpet the accident it two very different ways and therefore will develop different prevention measures.

Prevention only comes from education (scenario based), practice(stick skills and decision making), a deeper understanding of the variables and their influence, and ultimately developing a more robust decision making process.  This is where scenario based training and single pilot resource management come in. 

If the world was flat, and it were always sunny, always clear, always calm, no other aircraft, the plane was always guarateed to work properly, the pilot was always rested, and always proficient and current then there would be no need for any recurrent or enhancement training ever, and decision making skills would be irrelevant.

But the world is not flat, the weather is infinitely variable, planes have issues, airports have traffic, and pilots are not always ready for their flight and they don’t always think things through…. that why we need to keep learning if we want to stay alive.

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