Should I Have Said Something?

World English Dictionary hindsight— noun “The ability to understand, after something has happened, what should have been done or what caused the event”

Hindsight is great. 20-20 hindsight is even better. Have you ever had the feeling that you should have said something in a situation – any situation – and didn’t?

Do we, as aviation professionals, have a greater responsibility to speak up when we see something that we think may be potentially unsafe? And by aviation professionals, I mean all of us who strive to fly in a responsible professional manner, not necessarily someone who earns a paycheck from flying.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to go with another of our flying club instructors to retrieve an airplane that had been stranded after a mechanical issue. It was an interesting day for flying. A large low pressure system had passed through earlier and was now pulling offshore in the Gulf of Maine. This caused a “wraparound” effect of some low level moisture and strong northwesterly winds on the surface.

The trip to pick up the repaired plane was fairly uneventful for two CFIs with thousands of hours between them. On the return leg we had to make IFR letdowns through some bumpy wet clouds. Conditions underneath were not bad; about a 3,000 to 3,500 foot ceiling, 20 miles visibility with some scattered rain showers around. Surface winds were 10 gusting to 18 knots about 30 to 40° off the runway heading with the amount of low level turbulence and wind shear  that you would expect; not bad but sporting. It took a bit of rudder work to keep the airplane tracking the centerline.

Well, as we tied down the two airplanes, a new member was preflighting another plane. We chatted for a few minutes and left him to his tasks. As we walked away I thought about saying something to the other instructor. Something like, “It’s a little sporty out there for a 125 hour Private Pilot”. But then I thought; He’s a licensed pilot. He passed a flight test and club checkout. Conditions were VFR and well within the demonstrated crosswind component for the airplane. Would I sound like I doubted his ability?

An hour later, I got a phone call that the airplane was wrecked and lying in the grass between the runway and taxiway. The pilot lost control on his second landing attempt and slid off the downwind side of the runway. Fortunately, there were no injuries and no other damage.

What would you have done?