AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 97

P&E 

NEVER AGAIN

Night fright
Close encounter over North Florida

ANNA MILL

BY DOUGLAS KIEFER

I HAD READ MANY ARTICLES and warnings over the years, some in this magazine,
about the danger of get-home-itis. You say
to yourself, it will never happen to me. Oh,
yeah? Like so many flying accidents, often
it's not one big thing that brings you down,
but a series of small, seemingly unimportant and perhaps not even noticed
decisions or incidents. This is my story.
I had been flying about 13 years. After
a lot of $100 hamburgers in rented aircraft
I had bought my first airplane, a perfectly
kept 1957 Piper Tri-Pacer. I flew all over
Ontario and Quebec in Canada, up and
down Florida and the southeast United
States, and to the Bahamas.
I was on an extended stay in
Tallahassee in north Florida, from Canada.
The Tri-Pacer was registered in Canada
and my Canadian license was day VFR
only. In Canada, to fly at night requires
an additional 15- to 20-hour rating. Before
9/11, it was not difficult to simply bring my
aircraft into the United States temporarily

and fly on my Canadian license under the
terms of its flight rules. At that time, I had
about 450 flight hours, of which 250 were
in the Tri-Pacer. I have been told that is a
dangerous amount of time.
I was by myself on a return flight from
a private airport near Fort Myers, Florida,
to my home airport, Quincy Municipal
(2J9) in Quincy, Florida, about 25 miles
northeast of Tallahassee Regional Airport.
I planned to stop for fuel in Perry, Florida,
about 70 miles south of Quincy.
I launched in late afternoon, giving
no thought to what time the sun would
set (first bad decision) for the four-hour
flight to Quincy with a flight plan filed. The
weather was good, the air clear and calm,
and this was a flight I had made many times.
By the time I reached Perry, the sun was getting low, but I judged that I could make the
45-minute flight home before legal night
(second bad decision). Then, having been
away from home for several days, I decided
to make a quick phone call home to alert my

wife of my arrival time (third bad decision).
As this was prior to wide cellphone usage,
I walked one-quarter mile to a telephone
booth-remember those?-and walked the
quarter mile back to the airport.
This is the point where many years
later, I often wonder where my brain
was. One gets so focused on completing
the flight as planned that you don't step
outside the box to analyze your situation.
Also, being by yourself, there is no one to
ask some obvious questions.
The sun seemed to be well above the horizon, but I must have had some worry about
daylight. So, as the airport was deserted,
everything was closed, and the radio quiet
(now comes the fourth and really, really bad
decision-I was on the ground with the sun
going down and accommodation nearby), I
got airborne as quickly as I could by taking off
directly from the apron on the taxiway away
from the hangars.
Once I was airborne it was surprising how quickly the sun disappeared and
darkness appeared. This part of north
Florida is all trees and lightly populated.
There is one highway with little traffic and
a few small communities along the flight
track. It is like flying over water at night. I
had a small early yoke-mounted GPS with
a 2-inch-by-3-inch illuminated screen, but
you had to push a button about every two
minutes to keep it lit. The aircraft was
equipped with instrument lighting, navigation lights, and landing lights; I always
carried a sectional with the track drawn
and a list of necessary frequencies for the
trip. I had a flashlight, but it was out of
reach in the back seat as I never flew at
night. I also had five hours of instrument
time from my flight training, all in a simulator or under the hood.
By now, I knew via the GPS that I
was near or past the point of no return
and it made more sense to me to push
aopa.org/pilot AOPA PILOT | 97


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AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 7
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 16
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 18
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 19
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 20
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 21
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover4
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