The AOPA Air Safety Institute (ASI) released an Early Analysis video on the midair over Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven, Florida involving a Piper J3C-65 Cub and a Piper Warrior II PA-28-161. Richard McSpadden, Senior VP of the ASI team analyzes what happened in the crash that killed all four passengers in the two planes. He said the two planes likely did not see each other before the deadly collision. RELATED STORY:4 die in Florida midair collision, planes fall into lakeBoth of the planes had a flight instructor and a student pilot, the Warrior was being operated by Sunrise Aviation for Polk College and the float-equipped Cub was operated by Jack Brown's Seaplane Base. The Warrior was doing multiple approaches to runway 2-9 at Winter Haven and the J3 was returning down Lake Hartridge, proceeding through a canal into Lake Idlewild and then up to Lake Jessie.Warrior approach pattern
McSpadden said the Warrior was in a typical left-hand pattern and doing short approaches and the Cub had no radio or ADS-B equipment and was not required to. Video footage revealed that the two planes collided after the Warrior turned from downwind to base and the Warrior pilot called for the base. McSpadden said the Warrior appeared to be in a left-hand descending turn when the planes collided. The NTSB said that based on obtained video footage, the two planes collided nearly head-on. It was also reported that the Cub attempted to dive to the right immediately before the collision.
Operations were optimum that day for runway 2-9 and visibility was at least 10 miles. McSpadden said that most midairs occur near the traffic pattern and with nvfr conditions. He said the sun could have played a role, with the Cub heading inbound at a lower altitude and facing toward the sun, possibly becoming a distraction. He also stated that the Cub not having ADS-B might have been a factor, since the Cub would have had no situational awareness without the radio or ADS-B.Visual showing sun the day of the crash
While the Cub was not required to have a radio or ADS-B equipped on the plane in that area, they can have an impact on safe flying and give pilots full awareness of the Air Space around them. McSpadden said Jack Brown has been operating for 60 years and have procedures that usually keep the planes clear of traffic around Winter Haven.
McSpadden said other Jack Brown pilots have said they will lower the altimeter to zero while flying on the water. He said the field elevation for Winter Haven is 146 feet, giving a difference of about 150 feet based on what airplanes are reading off the altimeter and the accuracy. Jack Brown pilots deconflict from Winter Haven traffic by staying below 500 feet AGL, based on their altimeter setting. Most other traffic in the area is roughly 350 to 500 feet higher. He noted that for 60 years, this has proven a safe deconfliction method for the Seaplane operation. Richard McSpadden, Senior VP of the ASI team
Unfortunately, even a longstanding tradition can prove fatal. McSpadden said that in circumstances like this, some accident conditions were just right and certain factors come together to contribute to the mishap. Based on reports, the Cub was likely set up for a right base to fly over Lake Idlewild and land to the north on Lake Jessie. The Warrior, on left downwind, begins its left turn just past the touchdown point. Somewhere in the turn after the Warrior called the base, the two planes collided.
Based on the two planes' approaches, they were likely looking in different directions. The Cub was likely looking down and to the right and the Warrior was stationary and on a collision path in a sun-bleached sky. The Warrior was stationary on the windscreen and McSpadden noted that our eyes are optimized to see movement and since the plane was stationary, it showed no movement on the windscreen. He said the Cub, looking in a different direction, would likely have not seen the Warrior in its path.
The Early Analysis videos do not just go over the information known about the crash, each video tries to understand what to learn from the event and how to teach pilots to safely avoid fatal occurrences like this. McSpadden said most midairs happen near an airport and the traffic pattern, like this deadly crash. Also since Winter Haven Airport (GIF) has also grown busier over the years, he said maybe airport officials and the seaplane base need to review procedures to ensure both facilities are operating safely. He noted that the two groups should look at the seaplane procedure to set the altimeter to zero on the water and have a difference of 150 or so and whether that is still a safe practice. Since the Cub has never been required to be equipped with ADS-B technology, it might be time to reconsider the technology the plane is equipped with, giving pilots and instructors more situational awareness in the sky.
The NTSB was investigating the crash as well and preliminary reports take approximately two weeks and final reports take one year or more. According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation data, 45 percent of collisions occur in the traffic pattern, two-thirds of these occur during approach and landing and when the aircraft is on final or over the runway. The ASI also did an Early Analysis video on the Wings Over Dallas midair, which involved a Boeing B-17 and Bell P-63 Kingcobra and claimed the lives of all six people on the aircraft.
The AOPA said that collisions have remained at a steady rate for nearly two decades, but many end in fatalities. Agencies like the FAA, NTSB and AOPA request pilots report any close call as well to help better understand how to prevent or avoid a collision. Reports are entered into the FAA's Near Midair Collision (NMAC) reporting program. Any incident where aircraft are less than 500 feet apart is considered a near-midair collision. Some serious close calls have been reported across the country at towered airports as runway incursions are steadily rising. Incursions were the lowest they had ever been but have been steadily increasing since 2011.
Safety is paramount and the industry as a whole is pushing to increase awareness of mistakes like runway incursions, as the FAA approaches reauthorization. This video from the Early Analysis series can give pilots a chance to understand what went wrong and use the lessons in their flying to maintain a safer sky.
"The midair is a tragedy," McSpadden said. "It happened as it so often does with midairs, where things just happen to line up perfectly for two airplanes to be in the same piece of sky, and it cost four lives."
*The original reporting for the crash referred to the Piper as a Piper Cherokee.