How many people heard about this crash and thought to themselves, “It was only a matter of time before this contributed to a crash?” I know I did.With the proliferation of social media, “selfies” have become as ubiquitous as cell phones themselves, and are now an added cockpit distraction.
According to the NTSB report, the 29-year-old pilot, accompanied by a passenger, took off at night in IFR conditions. The ceiling was at 300 feet AGL and the visibility seven miles.
Radar data showed the airplane making one flight in the traffic pattern, landing, then taking off again and departing to the west. The Cessna reached an altitude of 740 feet AGL, then entered a steep descending turn to the left. The plane hit hard in a field, bounced, then crashed. Both the pilot and passenger were killed.
The image of the wreckage went viral. It is hardly recognizable as an airplane.
A GoPro camera was found near the wreckage and the files were recovered. Investigators discovered that the pilot and passenger were taking self-photographs with their cell phones during the night flight, and using the camera’s flash function during the takeoff roll, initial climb, and flight in the traffic pattern.
There is a time and place for selfies. Low altitude at the controls of an airplane in IMC is not one of them.
However, I hope the FAA doesn’t use this accident as a catalyst to ban cell phones from the cockpit. I am more in favor of self-policing.
Like most people, I am genetically attached to my cell phone. It is my electronic lifeline. I use it to keep track of my appointments, communicate with friends, family and clients and, when it is is in camera or video mode, to document solos, first flights, and other aviation milestones — but with discretion.
Someone has to be flying the airplane. Clearing turns need to be done. And please don’t use flash photography at night — temporary blindness and spatial disorientation are killers.
I have clients who use GoPros to record their flights. I am okay with this as long as the technology does not distract them and the camera is mounted so it doesn’t create a potential hazard should it become unattached during the flight.
I have found the videos to be useful in the learning process because the client can see where he or she needs to make changes, such as using more nose-up in the flare, to achieve the required outcome.
That being said, just as the radio does not fly the airplane, neither does the GoPro or the cell phone.
In fact, cell phone and tablet use has become part of the passenger safety briefing. When there are passengers on board, I explain that the phones and tablets can become projectiles if we hit turbulence. Please stow them if instructed to do so.
I also warn them not to stare at the screen or through a view finder because it is a sure-fire way to get motion sickness. Trust me. I know. Many years ago as a television news photographer I came perilously close to “painting” the inside of the Collings Foundation B-17 after a flight from Grants Pass, Ore., to Eugene when I spent too much time looking into the viewfinder of my Betacam.
Cell phone etiquette during an instructional flight is often a frequent topic of discussion at the airport. I know people who fired their instructor because the instructor constantly texted while the client was supposed to be getting instruction.
To these CFIs, I say you hold a commercial certificate and should have at least a modicum of professionalism. Texting for informational purposes, such as “we are running late ETA 2:35,” is one thing. Catching up on Facebook is something else.
On the other side of the coin are the clients who seem more interested in their cell phones than flying the airplane. I have talked with other CFIs — and been that CFI — who wondered why the client even bothered to show up for the flight, because most of their time was spent with the phone. I feel like my mother when I have to utter the phrase, “please put that away,” with the second part of that statement the unspoken “or I will take it away.”
It’s more than the client being rude — if that person cares more about what is happening in the virtual world than the cockpit, are you comfortable putting your name in their logbook?
Flying is a privilege, not a right. Let us respect it enough to put our electronic gadgets away and focus on the task at hand.