PILOT TRAINING ARTICLE
Leading Aviation Training Center Specialist Weighs in on Ghost Flight Phenomenon
It has been a rough week for general aviation. There have been two relatively high-profile accidents that have affected the community. On Saturday, August 31st retired Harley-Davidson executive Ronald Hutchinson was killed when his Cirrus SR-22 impacted the Atlantic Ocean east of the state of Virginia. Then, on Friday, September 5th a TBM-900 carrying Larry Glazer, the CEO of Buckingham Properties, and his wife Jane crashed just off the island of Jamaica.
Both pilots were very experienced, with over 9,000 flying hours between the two men. Likewise, both were seemingly in good health and current and qualified for the flights they filed and flew. However, both pilots became unresponsive during the course of their flights necessitating military fighter escort.
Furthermore, the intercepting fighters attempted contact without success to each aircraft. In the end, there was no response from either plane, ending in tragedy.
So what can cause two highly experienced, healthy pilots to become completely incapacitated in the cockpit? And what about in the second aircraft where there was a passenger equally unresponsive?
In a word: hypoxia. When flying at over 10,000ft there is always a chance of hypoxia if unnoticed malfunctions occur with the aircraft. Hypoxia is basically when the body is low on oxygen. In such circumstances the body will provide clues like light-headedness or skin-tingling.
But a pilot must recognize these symptoms. With the decrease in available training centers teaching pilots about hypoxia, these incidents will increase. It is necessary for all pilots to ensure they have appropriate training in hypoxia symptoms and mitigation to prevent such accidents from affecting them.
While the actual cause for either accident has yet to be determined, it is highly likely from the circumstantial information that a lack of recognition and training about hypoxia is to blame.