Recently a pilot with thirty years of flight experience approached me at the Canadian Aviation Expo to discuss some of his close calls. He has permitted me to share one of his stories, one that he says “really got those nervous butterflies a twitchin’.”
It was mid-afternoon on a day in March of 1980 when our pilot was flying three passengers in a Cessna 182 from CYYZ to CYSN (Toronto, ON to St. Catherines, ON). The planned route was to proceed west along the north shore of Lake Ontario, cut across the western tip of the lake, and follow the southern shoreline to St. Catharines airport. Nearing the cut across point, our pilot was now no longer in radio contact with Toronto Terminal and had his head down momentarily to verify his position on the map. In hindsight, our pilot identifies this very time as that in which a dangerous situation was developing. One that our pilot admittedly failed to see during his scans of the airspace around him.
Quiet and peaceful in the 182 with the passengers enjoying the scenery, and completely unknown to our pilot at the time, there was another aircraft at the same altitude heading directly for them. Fortunately for both aircraft and all aboard, the other pilot did manage to see and avoid our pilot’s 182 in time to change heading and avoid what our pilot humbly describes as “a very compromising situation.” Things were happening very quickly as the two aircraft were closing in on one another at a speed of at least 250 knots. At the last moment our pilot finally spotted the other aircraft when its right wing came up as it changed course to the left. Instinctively, our pilot likewise immediately altered his course to the left.
Both aircraft passed each other within a rather uncomfortable two to three hundred feet of one another. Says our pilot, “I could not understand why I did not see that threat sooner. I am always extremely diligent and try my best to leave nothing to chance.”
So, what happened? Our pilot provides these comments. “At the time, there were white puffy clouds on the horizon and I can only surmise that the other aircraft became invisible against the white backdrop. Affordable collision avoidance systems were not available at that time (perhaps not at all), but I know from my many years of flying that scenarios like this present themselves quite frequently. Sometimes the consequences are fatal. It may seem like a big sky out there and most of the time it is, but at a busy airport or airspace, the sky suddenly becomes a great deal smaller. A PCAS collision avoidance system would have alerted me to that invisible threat as it developed and allowed a much safer passing distance between the two aircraft. I continue to maintain extreme diligence in my scans whenever I fly, but since that moment twenty-seven years ago, they seem to be just a bit more acute and focused. I hope this helps other pilots to reinforce the importance of keeping up their situational awareness scans. Get your passengers involved as a part of the process and make the acquisition of a PCAS system a high priority. Two birds arriving at the same place at the same moment in time . . . not a good thing!”
In addition to our pilot’s endorsement for PCAS I will remind my readers once again to stay alert, maintain a good and constant lookout (with the assistance of your passengers), listen and communicate, and use flight following.