If you didn't read the full Pioneer Press piece about the danger politicians face when flying small planes, you'd think it was about, well, the danger of small planes. Actually it was about the dangers of political personalities.
"Campaigning in small planes is extremely dangerous," said former Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., who survived a crash. "Small planes are dangerous themselves. But the campaigning is extremely dangerous for the very simple reason that they push and take chances they never should take. It's push, push, push. We think we're so important and this admiring throng is waiting for us, we fly through thunderstorms and fog and whatever, thinking we can get there."
That's a good quote. Too bad the writer didn't spend the rest of the article examining what goes on inside a politician's head.
Planes rarely crash because of the planes; that is, a technical glitch is seldom enough to bring a plane down. Usually, when a technical glitch is involved, it sets off a chain of events when a pilot forgets a simple rule for staying alive: fly the damned plane.
But most of the time, planes crash because someone decided to take off in the first place. That's why the piece should've been headlined, "politicians are dangerous."
The piece that was printed, however, is what happens when reporters and columnists "try this at home."
Yet they're also 40 times more likely to be in accidents than commercial jetliners, according to National Transportation Safety Board statistics.
It then lists all of the small planes that killed politicians. What say we look a little closer at the real problem.
Oct. 25, 2002 — Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., killed with his wife, daughter and five others when their plane crashed in light snow in Eveleth, Minn.
The pilot initially didn't want to go, given the weather. He felt pressured by the Wellstone scheduler and eventually launched. Confusion near Eveleth about where the airport was caused the pilots to forget to fly the plane. The plane worked fine. It was the pilot and the campaign that made some bad decisions. I still think the faulty airport beacon played a role. I flew the same route a few weeks later and ended up with the same confusion. And several FAA-assigned pilots flew it too and ended up off-course, until the NTSB made them fly it later. When they flew it successfully, the NTSB said "nope. The beacon works fine."
Oct. 16, 2000 — Democratic Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, killed with his son and an aide when their plane crashed in bad weather in Missouri.
This was a vacuum pump failure, which powers a couple of instruments such as the one that drives the artificial horizon...a good thing to have in instrument conditions. They fail quite often, but it's not fatal. In this case the back-up instruments were working but they were in front of the co-pilot's location and the pilot couldn't handle it.
April 19, 1993 — Republican South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson, killed with seven others when their state-owned turboprop plane crashed in a rainstorm at Zwingle, Iowa.
Yep, blame this one on the airplane. A cracked propellor hub essentially destroyed the engine.
April 1, 1991 — Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., killed when his plane collided with a helicopter over Lower Merion, Pa.
A plane didn't kill John Heinz. Stupidity did. It was a "problem" with landing gear; the same kind of problem that CNN has raced to cover at least 6 times in the last two years, never with any problem. In this case the pilots did a fly by the control tower (which could tell them nothing) and then decided to have a helicopter check it out. A stupid move. The helicopter couldn't tell them anything they didn't already know. In this case, fold up the landing gear, and land on a runway on the belly. Simple. Instead, the helicopter got too close, and they collided.
The others, I don't have a memory (as I do the above) to lay complete claims on but I do know airplane crash statistics and causes and airplane malfunction is almost never the case. Pilot error in the air and the pressure to take-off kills people; a lot. And not just politicians.
BTW, an emergency landing is not a plane crash any more than pulling your car to the side of the road is an automobile crash.
It's true airplanes involve risk, more risk than driving a car or a bus. But we all manage risk every day. The real issue that would've been more informative, would have been this question: why are the pilots and politicians who die in plane crashes so poor at managing risk?
There's an old axiom in flying: "there are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots."
Can't think of any about the planes themselves, though.