1SM: "Approach, Bonanza 1 Sierra Mike, we're going to need a vector to the nearest airport."Am I the only one that has a couple of problems with that? Hold the thought while I continue here.
NY Approach: "What was that? 1 Sierra Mike, you need to go to an airport?"
1SM: "Yes, we're having some engine problems and we're going to need to land."
NY Approach: "OK, that'll be White Plains. 1 Sierra Mike, turn right to a heading of 240 and descend and maintain 3,000 feet. You can expect the visual to Runway 16 at White Plains."
1SM: "OK, right turn to 240, descend to 3,000, 1 Sierra Mike."
After a couple of minutes...
1SM: "New York, 1 Sierra Mike, can you tell me where the airport is?"Here, courtesy of FlightAware.com is the ground track of 1 Sierra Mike, beginning with departure from Teterboro (KTEB):
NY Approach: "The airport is about 9 miles at your 10 o'clock now."
1SM: "OK, we don't see it; I guess we want to try to stay a little higher here..."(sic)
NY Approach: "1 Sierra Mike, altitude your discretion, the airport is about 8 miles now at your 9 o'clock. Turn left to 180."
1 SM: "We're having trouble holding altitude here. I'm not sure we're going to make the field."
My inference is that the controller had 1 Sierra Mike on a left base for Runway 16 at KHPN and planned to turn him onto the localizer somewhere around the usual intercept gate for IFR approaches. (As usual, click to enlarge. Bonanza 1SM is the blue track.) Unfortunately, 1 Sierra Mike was running out of altitude before that plan could be accomplished. Meanwhile, the riveting exchange continued on the frequency...
NY Approach: 1 Sierra Mike, say souls on board and, er..., fuel."A minute or so later, an Emergency Location Transmitter (ELT) signal began on 121.5 MHz, the emergency frequency. 1 Sierra Mike was presumably on the ground, and had decelerated abruptly enough to trigger the ELT.
1SM: "It's the two of us on board and we've got one full tank and the other side is about half."
1SM: "Approach, 1 Sierra Mike is definitely not going to make the field. We're going to put it down out here. There's a field and a road over to the right."
NY Approach: "1 Sierra Mike, radar contact lost."
Again courtesy of FlightAware.com, here are the altitude and speed profiles for 1 Sierra Mike.
Quite soon thereafter N631S and I were handed off to the next sector, but I tuned the number two radio to 120.8 and kept monitoring. Soon, several aircraft, carefully separated by altitude, were looking for 1 Sierra Mike's location. One searcher posed a question:
Search Aircraft: "New York, what's the type aircraft and color?"After perhaps another five minutes, the controller said to one of the search aircraft, "Thanks for your help, you can continue. Somebody found them over there."
NY Approach: "It's a BE36...I guess we don't know the color."
When I arrived at home in the DC area I quickly looked for news of the incident on-line and was rewarded with a brief article that referred to a "forced landing" and, more importantly, did not mention injuries or worse.
This morning, I learned from updates to the news item, that the two on board were transported to the hospital with injuries judged to be not life-threatening. So the outcome, basically, was good. And that leaves open a question: Why am I troubled by this incident?
Let's start with a disclaimer: I'm not a qualified accident investigator. I am typically appalled by speculation in the aftermath of accidents. I guess I'm about to do that which usually annoys me. Well, here goes...
- First, the pilot who really did a great job throughout this incident erred, in my view, by not using the E-word on the first call to approach after the engine went bad. His phraseology was ambivalent and the seriousness of the situation was not at all clear. It costs NOTHING! to say, "Bonanza 1 Sierra Mike is declaring an emergency due to loss of power." Doing so removes all doubt from the minds of the ATC people.
- Second, the controller treated the situation like a normal approach into KHPN. He issued a descent to 3,000 feet (to get below KLGA arrivals?) and pointed the airplane toward the 16 localizer. The pilot didn't declare an emergency, and the controller didn't treat it as one. If the initial vector had been directly to the numbers at KHPN Runway 16, would 1 Sierra Mike have made it?
- Third, the controller issued a descent to three thousand and the pilot knew his engine was in trouble. The best one word response would have been, "Unable!" Instead, he started down. With the engine questionable (or worse), altitude is your bank account. You don't give it up without a really good reason. It seems that the pilot ceded command authority to ATC...never a good idea.
- Fourth, even as it became clear that an emergency had developed, the controller asked for "souls on board" (good!) and "fuel" (why?). In the moment, it would admittedly be hard to do the logical thing ask for the color of the airplane that is about to be on the ground but that just emphasizes the rote nature of the responses. Perhaps ATC needs a better training module for dealing with emergencies.