Roll the Dice or Stack the Deck

Many pilots think accidents are inevitable—that they only happen to the other pilot, not to them. Such a fatalistic attitude can be hazardous to your health.

You can and do influence the outcome of every flight you make, and just like flipping a coin, the outcome of your next flight has nothing to do with your last flight. It all depends on the decisions you make before and during each flight.

When you flip a coin, there’s always a fifty-fifty chance of the outcome. And while there are really only two possible outcomes for a flight (successful or unsuccessful), you have and should take the opportunity to skew the odds in your favor well into the ninetieth percentile. Unfortunately we can and do make bad decisions and get away with them, which only reinforces a perception that common sense and some rules don’t apply to us.

The airplane and circumstances have no awareness of who or what you are, so you need to be aggressively proactive in making good risk-management decisions. Just because your name is John F. Kennedy Jr., or that you are a former astronaut and military test pilot doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t make a poor decision. Kennedy either didn’t understand or respect the hazards of flying over open water with no horizon at night. He became spatially disoriented and either lost control of the airplane or simply flew into the water unaware of his altitude.  The fact that he was a celebrity did nothing to mitigate the risk, contrary to what many people who don’t fly seem to think. Scott Crossfield was an experienced and skilled test pilot and astronaut who flew the X-15 and either didn’t get a thorough weather briefing or didn’t realize the magnitude of the turbulent storm he tried to fly through that caused his Cessna 210 to break up in flight or simply forced it into the ground in a severe downdraft.

You can find the NTSB reports on these two accidents in the NTSB database at  and searching on N9253N on 7/16/1999 for the Kennedy accident and N6579X on 4/19/2006 for the Crossfield accident.

The take away is that an accident can happen to anyone, so do your best to prevent one from happening to you. Stack the deck.


About Rich Martindell

Instrument flight instructor (CFII), rated airline transport pilot (ATP), former military instructor pilot in F-4s and F-15s. Aircraft accident investigator and flight safety consultant. FAA Safety Team Lead Representative.
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