Posted by: Chris Davis | February 17, 2010

Clouded Judgment

Just last week I had a client call to report a claim.  There were no injuries in the accident, but the aircraft appears to be total loss.  As with most claims the pilot was a bit embarrassed and genuinely wished he was not in the situation, but in this case I thanked him for making the decisions that lead to the accident.  What???  Did he just say that he thanked his client for making a decision that caused an accident?   Yes, that is exactly what I said…let me give you the scenario that led to the accident in the first place and you will understand why.

Our wayward pilot was out for an afternoon flight on a day that was forecast and reported to be VFR.  Although overcast and marginal in some areas it was not unlike many other days that he had flown in the past.  The difference about this day came when VFR turned to marginal VFR all around him and the ceiling proceeded to get lower.  Without an Instrument rating and having mountainous terrain between him and the nearest airport, our pilot elected to land on a stretch of country road.  This may not sound like a great option, but when flying in Utah it is not uncommon to find a long stretch of road that is sparsely traveled and has no obstructions.  Equipped with heavy duty gear and Bushwheels this landing would not normally pose any difficulty, but this is winter and winter brings with it a good bit of snow in the Utah basin.  As luck would have it, the road had been plowed, but consequently it was only plowed wide enough for one lane.  Unfortunately, our pilot got a tire just off the plowed track and he was along for the ride.

So where did that leave my client?  In short the underwriting company is cutting him a check for the agreed value of the aircraft as is listed in his policy.  He has already found a replacement and the same underwriter is agreeing to continue to insure him with the new aircraft.  Contrary to what you may assume, the rates did not exponentially increase for the new aircraft.  The underwriter, adjuster, and I all agree that this could have been much worse had the pilot continued into IMC without an instrument rating or any formal instrument training.  Should our pilot have elected not to fly and thus prevented the issue altogether?  Perhaps.  Have we all done something along the same lines at some point in our flying career?  Probably.  The facts of the matter remain, my client managed an inadvertent, potentially life threatening situation as well as could be expected and walked away without any injury.  We can always replace an aircraft, but a life is priceless and irreplaceable.

Accidents happen, if that were not true then insurance companies would be nonexistent.  The key is to manage the risk, make the best decisions possible given the circumstances, and always choose to prevent injury or loss of life over trying to minimize the damage to the aircraft.

-Clear skies & tailwinds.

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