This month’s Close Call comes from yet another of my fellow Internet forum-goers and I share it with you as the poster had written it.
“As a freshman flier back in 1980 with less than 80 hours in my log book I departed CYHU in a PA28-140 with my then girlfriend in the right seat. To add to the excitement of this story I should also mention that my girlfriend was terrified of flying but came along to support me none-the-less. My intention was to fly from CYHU to CYUL, do a touch-and-go and then make our way over to CYJN before heading back to CYHU. An added twist to this story is that ATC was on strike at the time and management was manning the radios in the tower at CYUL. Because of the strike we had to phone ahead to make sure it was okay to fly into CYUL. We did just that and were advised that traffic was light and they would accept our request for a touch-and-go. Fast forwarding we are now set up on final approach at approximately 1,500 ft indicated. Above us lied a thick cloud base of stratocumulus at about the 4,000 ft level.
It seemed that the controller was communicating with me on one frequency but was communicating with the commercial airliners on another. However, both frequencies were ‘linked’ so I could hear the controller but not the airline pilot's communications. Shortly after being "cleared for the touch and go runway 24L", we heard the controller issue a landing clearance to an Air Canada pilot for the same runway. Wanting to be sure we were number one, especially since I had no idea how far back the Air Canada plane was, I asked the controller to confirm we were in fact number one for touch-and-go.
With an excitement in the controller’s voice that I will never forget I was told to make an immediate 180 degree turn to the left and give way to an incoming Air Canada DC-9. Following the instructions and rolling out on my new heading of 060 we saw the DC-9 barrel out of the cloud base and scream by us at what appeared to be way too close for our liking. The controller then cleared us once again for the touch-and-go and reminded us of the possibility of wake turbulence behind the DC-9. Believe me that was the one thing he didn't have to remind me of. Turning left we established ourselves back on final and staying WELL above the flight path of the DC-9 I landed some 4,000 ft down the runway (I know, I know, but I only had about 80 hours and I wanted to be sure I was well above any potential wake turbulence).
In trying to impress my then girlfriend by flying into another airport I failed to look at the complete picture and ask myself "Am I doing the right thing by flying into a relatively unknown airport manned by a group of managers not normally on the radios with a relatively low cloud base?" To this day I'm not really sure what the right answer is but my decision that day created an everlasting memory that will never be forgotten.“