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By LZ791
"Three brothers and business colleague die in light aircraft crash, France!!!"

Thank god the newspapers of the morning 04-03-12 did not carry this headline, they could so easily have! This is a report on a flying trip by a 52 years old student PPL flying as a back seat passenger to the south of France in a Piper Saratoga. Up front P1 is my younger brother age 46 with around 200+ hours, alongside him another brother Richard aged 50 with 700+ hours PPL experience acting as P2 but no real IMC experience or rating

The purpose of the flight was for the pilot to drop myself and Richard at Bologna to collect a Rolls Royce which we were going to drive back to the UK. The pilot was booked to attend a property conference in Cannes for most of that week, with his wife and two children flying in commercially later that week and all returning to Hampshire at the weekend in the Saratoga. The "business colleague (a journalist for a leading UK property paper) was making his first ever light aircraft trip and nervous with it, he too was leaving at Cannes.

The aircraft had positioned from Thruxton to North Weald that morning and we converged from around London to join the party. Weather was very windy with gusts reported at 35+ knots. The pilot of the Saratoga told us these were the bumpiest conditions he had flown in to date and that we could expect a rough departure until with luck winds abated at altitude. Fully fueled engine was fired and clearance requested. We were lined up for a 02 departure, number two behind a Cessna 172 heading for Turweston. We watched the Cessna as it appeared to levitate upwards almost vertically with little obvious forward progress. At around 1200 feet the Cessna turned downwind and streaked off seemingly with turbo or rocket assistance! Now it was our turn, throttle forward and even at max gross we were off in seconds and immediately being beaten by severe turbulence. Quickly leaving the circuit we routed south crossing the Thames just east of the Dartford bridge, past Rochester, skirting Headcorn, Lydd and on out over a seriously rough channel. Visibility was VFR with patches of scattered cloud, mist,sleet a real mixed bag.

The handling pilot qualified for his PPL in 2009 and immediately bought a Cherokee 180. This was soon deemed to slow and small for his needs, he was in the fortunate position to be able to move up to the Saratoga. Now owning a serious high performance aircraft an IMC was the next challenge, this was duly completed early 2011 followed by some UK and European trips including a Baltic summer tour in 2011 and a night rating.

Meeting the French coast at Dieppe ATC cleard us to climb to 6,500 which meant we were flying in between cumulus clouds and at times inside for between 15 to 40 seconds. Soon we emerged into clear air from my rear forward facing seat port side, I commented on ice crystals appearing on the leading edge. This was acknowledged and we continued south. By the middle of France we were cleared to 8000 ft and again found ourselves skimming the cloud tops which were higher then suggested, and at times we were in them for long periods. The frontal system we were warned about was bang on track, stable north to south over France with us literally flying the edge. To the west was clear but our chosen track and flight plan kept us heading in and out of cloud tops. At this time the aircraft was on auto pilot with P1 monitoring the panel and engine, occasionally reverting to flying manually when things got especially rough or the auto pilot jumped off line! Flying the high ground in this region was incredibly turbulent with wave effect winds rolling off the mountain tops. At times it became quite violent with empty drink cans and a spare head set hitting the ceiling. For a spell I was reduced to bracing myself with hand on the cabin roof and feet pushed hard into the seat back of the empty club class seat opposite! Our journalist friend was by now not a happy bunny at all.

I noticed that we were now collecting a proper layer of ice on the windscreen, a blast of warm cabin air soon dealt with that little did any of us realize what was collecting on the airframe outside! Sweets and drinks were dispensed and a general feel good factor was felt by all. All on board the flight work in reasonably high stress careers, this trip was a brief relaxation, a break away from the usual with time to enjoy each others company. Richard ( P2) took a nap whilst I continued to take photos from the back and enjoy the scenery. Somewhere over the Haute Savoie region we were again scud running (Richard was awake now, auto pilot had been engaged for the past 20 or so minutes). From the back and even with my limited experience I commented on the nose high attitude and angle of attack. This was immediately followed by a series of heavy jolts and thumps felt by us all. Bear in mind this is happening in cloud and turbulence, quite unnerving for all.The initial reaction up front was that the engine was running rough, the mixture was advanced to full rich to no obvious effect. Richard as P2 scanned the panel and immediately noticed the VSI was showing between 1000 and 500 ft per minute decent. The airspeed to his, my and by then P1's horror showed under 75 knots and decreasing!! This all happened in seconds just as we broke out of cloud into clear skies. First thoughts prior to the stall buffeting was that ice had frozen the heated pitot head and we were receiving erroneous readings.

P2 was quick to recognize our dire and worsening situation, the nose was immediately lowered, throttle pushed hard forward with the expected airspeed increase thankfully flying us out of trouble, and theloss thank god of that ominous pre stall shake and buffeting.

We descended below cloud level and made the coast near St Tropez turning east for Cannes. Cannes approach looked after us most professionally, they were incredibly busy with business jets from all over Europe arriving for the property conference.
The plan was to drop our journalist friend, re fuel and depart immediately for Bologna 300+ miles east. Poor weather was rapidly moving in the thought of a night landing in mountainous territory held zero appeal, enough close calls thanks!!

The Rolls collection would now have to wait for another day, easyjet from Nice now looked most attractive!

So what happened?

The following morning at breakfast in our hotel the three of us talked through the events of the day before. Various factors had contributed to the position that we found ourselves in. The frightening conclusion was that despite plenty of warnings, and advice from P2 going unheeded,factor after factor added into the mixture, that not one of us recognized that we were on a flight into danger until we almost reached the point of no return.

Factor 1 - P1 IMC rated with plenty of recent time logged but little actual IMC experience.

Factor 2 - Continuing with a flight into known icing conditions.

Factor 3 - Sticking rigidly to the flight plan, not taking options that were available when icing was noticed, and filing an altered flight plan.

Factor 4 - Possible gung ho attitude from P1, I am with my brothers they have not flown IMC with me before, I can show them that regardless of weather I can get through ok!

Factor 5 - Despite P1's IMC rating and P2's considerable experience the icing situation was allowed to develop with advice from P2 not being heeded to skirt west into clear sky VFR conditions.

Factor 6 - If as a passenger (albeit a training PPL) and useful advice can be offered, don't be afraid to say so,if necessary forcefully. Sitting in the rear with a good idea of what was unfolding but staying stum was akin to being led meekly to the gallows when innocent, and not protesting!

Summary - The aircraft with autopilot engaged flew into known freezing levels accumulating considerable ice. The danger of this contamination was that it lowered the stalling angle of attack of the wing. Autopilot compensated by holding the attitude and as forward speed decayed due to impaired lift, the angle of attack increased unnoticed.

What saved us? Quite simply pure luck in that the stall warning symptoms happened just as we broke into clear VFR. Had it happened in extended IMC conditions and without P2's help and experience, I fully believe our airframe with wing heavy wing ice contamination would have led quickly to a fully stalled aircraft, loss of control and fatal spin. With an out of balance aircraft, normal flight would likely have been impossible or recoverable in the height available.

Foot note: - As we descended to flight level 2000 ft and lower I witnessed huge lumps of ice breaking away from the port wing underside.

Dinner that night was excellent but a sober affair, that reserved table for four so easily could have remained unused!

We learnt about flying from that.
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By Flintstone
Now that is a pucker-inducing story.
A gripping tale--I was in a similar position once--but nowhere near as worrying as yours. Sounds like another "attitude" problem. Someone who felt embarressed about his capabilities, and could not take advice.
As you say a pretty close call--only hope the pilot reflects and learns.
By LZ791
In addition to the above report, this second report was written by P2 without consultation to me, it also makes interesting reading!

Coming from a flying family, there is nothing my brothers & I like more then to find an excuse for a continental trip. Brother A is the owner of a Piper Saratoga & has 200 or so hours as a PPL & also holds an IMC rating. Brother B has recently sold his Cherokee 235 & has 700 hours on an NPPL. Brother C has 40 or so hours & is close to getting his PPL. (has now got 94 hours and qualified)

Brother A had a business trip to Cannes Planned in the Saratoga along with a colleague who expressed a grave fear of flight & wanted to cure the Bogey once & for all. Brother B needed to collect a car in Bologna & thought it a good idea to tag along to Cannes & then be dropped off in Bologna late that day or the following day. Brother C just wanted to come along for a jolly & the pleasure of flying.

The plan was to meet at Stapleford, Assemble the troops & route south direct to Cannes. Brother A arrived early in the Saratoga into the teeth of a gale gusting 40 knots & brimmed the tanks. The rest of us arrived late morning & after stocking up on biscuits, pee bottles & other requisites we staggered into the air near full gross behind a Cessna 172 which seemed to be barely moving as it fought the strong winds. Sods law was in obeyance as the wind was directly behind us giving an 180 knot speed over the ground. We routed over the Dartford crossing below 200 ft, out to Lydd which we overflew & on over the channel making landfall at Dieppe.

Brother A flying P1 had got a weather report showing we would be flying along the edge of a stationary front with tops forecasted at 8000 & lower ceiling at 3000ft. As we progressed into France the clouds started building & becoming higher from our planned altitude. Clearer conditions were evident 50 to 100 miles to the west, but a case of flight plan fixation was in evidence from brother A who elected to plough on as per his previous planning. Brother A is in the habit of putting the craft on autopilot & flying VOR to VOR with an occasional twiddle of the heading bug to intercept the next way point, only touching the controls prior to descent.

Flying at 9000 ft as the clouds built, we would occasionally duck into the cloud tops usually emerging quite quickly. As the Clouds built further, brother B flying P2 suggested routing through clear valleys in the clouds rather then proceeding through them on several occasions, but was largely ignored by brother A. OAT was about minus 7 or 8. Small snowflakes on occasion were to be seen whirling past the screen.

A small amount of clear ice formed in some of the nooks & crannies on the wing, but then seemed to dissipate. As times spent in IMC increased some rime ice started to build on the leading edge of the wing. Brother B somewhat lulled into a false sense of security knowing brother A was IMC rated noted the ice to Brother A, but assumed he was used to such things from his IMC flying.

A particularly large wall of cloud loomed ahead which unlike on previous forays, had no visible end to it. The Saratoga entered it & was instantly in complete IMC for several miles. During this time we experienced some turbulence whilst the plane maintained heading & height on auto pilot. More rime ice was now evident along the leading edges & a little ice was forming on the windscreen. As we started to emerge from the cloud a shuddering abnormality was felt indicating something clearly wrong with the aircraft. Brother B flying P2 suggested going to full rich as the impression was of the engine missing. Richening the mixture had no effect & the shuddering became worse. Brother C in the rear cried out to watch our angle of attack as from where he was sitting it was very evident that the plane had emerged from the cloud nose high in an unusual attitude.

Brother B leaned across to inspect the primary instruments & immediately noticed the VSI indicating a 750 to 1000 ft descent rate. Brother B called for Pitot heat to be checked to be on which elicited a very terse & strained response from brother A who was clearly under great pressure. Brother B assumed incorrectly that the Pitot tube was maybe Iced up giving a false VSI reading & told Brother B to treat the VSI as temporarily U/S. Brother B then looked at the ASI & noted that the speed was at 70 knots & shouted at brother A to disengage autopilot & get the nose down ASAP. As the nose went down, airspeed built & the buffeting instantly stopped.

A descent was made towards St Tropez & as the Saratoga entered above freezing air large sheets of ice were seen to fall off the undersides of the wings. Approach into Cannes was made with some trepidation due to the front no longer stationary advancing towards us from Italy as a thick black wall. We landed successfully a half hour or so prior to the region becoming full on IMC. All thoughts of onward travel to Bologna were shelved.

Multiple Mistakes were made during the flight, none of which we were proud of & many which should have been avoided.

Brother B wrongly diagnosed the thumping sound as being engine related, when in fact the engine was performing perfectly. What in fact was happening was that the aircraft had picked up ice no longer desired to fly. As it started to lose altitude the autopilot compensated by raising the nose. As the nose raised the airspeed bled off until the thumping sound of an imminent stall was being heard as the plane mushed through the air rapidly losing altitude & in a nose high attitude hanging on the prop. Only by the grace of god did we emerge from the cloud in time to avert a full on stall in IMC followed by what would very possibly have been an unrecoverable spin in an iced over un-aerodynamic airframe. Brother B was also guilty of not speaking up more adamantly & demanding we stayed in VFR out of clouds. Brother B also made the classic mistake of not believing the VSI when in fact it was giving entirely correct readings.

Brother C in the back was equally guilty of not being more vociferous over his concerns about ice & flying into cloud in known icing conditions. Both brother B & C should have more forcefully suggested a route to the west which whilst adding time would have kept the flight clear of clouds.

Brother A was clearly the most guilty having ignored all advice when overwhelming evidence of icing was being handed to him on a plate!! Moreover there was a good dose of the Macho & “I’ve done this before” monkey sitting on his shoulder combined with some get-there-itis. Had the IMC incursions been hand flown, some reference would have been made via the primary instrument scan & averted the crisis before it became life threatening, instead of blithely flying on in IMC on autopilot as the situation became grave.

As it is we survived, but only realized just how close we were to certain death once we had returned to the ground & analyzed what had happened. It was a salutary lesson on the ills of entering IMC when not properly trained to do so & we were lucky to survive & not become an accident report concerning a smoking hole in the ground.
By greggj
I have absolutely zero experience here with such things, but question comes to mind.
How much the actual buffet of wings contributed to getting rid of ice ? My understanding is that wings actually physically 'vibrate/shake' a bit when that happens.
Last edited by greggj on Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By aluminium persuader
Slightly off-topic, but I thought it is not legal to fly in IMC overseas with only an IMC rating? I thought that since no other state recognised it, one needed a full IR or stay VFR?
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By Flintstone
greggj wrote:...actually physically...

By greggj
Flintstone wrote:
greggj wrote:...actually physically...


Care to actually say something useful ?
User avatar
By Flintstone
greggj wrote:Care to actually say something useful ?

I have experienced icing on many occasions although these have predominantly been benign, my having entered known icing conditions with a suitably equipped aircraft. There have been times where icing was not forecast and entry to those conditions was inadvertent. Once or twice this happened in an unequipped aircraft in IMC at night necessitating immediate action. The airframe icing varied between rime and clear ice (on separate occasions) and although there was sufficient of each to alter the wing profile I was able to get away before any noticeable deterioration in performance. I've certainly never had to experience the formation of horns or any other severe form of ice. Perhaps my worst experience was failure of a pitot/static heat system but luckily that aircraft had built-in redundancy so all in all a bit of a non-event.

It is often noticeable just how quickly ice can accrue in small, unprotected areas such as the corners of windshields which brings home an appreciation to those who have not experienced ice build up first hand just how it is possible to find oneself in a 'situation' in a very short time indeed. The picture below is of the landing gear on an aircraft I flew in to Stephensville, Canada one winter's day. We were aware of the conditions so delayed gear extension until late in the approach but this amount of snow and ice still collected in about five minutes.


I have also watched ice accretion on aircraft equipped with leading edge boots, watching the ice crack and peel away with each cycle is somewhat hypnotic. The advantage of boots is that (notwithstanding system failures) as long as the engine(s) run, you have anti-ice protection. A disadvantage is that cycling the boots too soon, when the ice is thin, can create an ice 'bridge' over the boot upon which further ice can build up.

For a couple of years I flew aircraft with 'weeping wing'/TKS systems. These have the advantage of being lighter than boots but somewhat messy. Its use also requires a degree of anticipation as there is a risk that if a crew delay activation of the system until ice has already formed there will be insufficient pressure to drive the fluid between the ice layer and surface of the leading edge. Another disadvantage is the limited onboard supply of fluid, particularly on smaller aircraft.

Electrically heated wings and tail are another option. I have no first hand experience of this but I am told that not all are up to performing as advertised and 'most' aircraft are incapable of maintaining a good enough power supply to keep the surfaces sufficiently heated although from my position on the fence I would ask if this is when the system is asked to perform in conditions more severe than those for which it was designed.

By far the best performing anti-ice system is bleed air (heated leading edges) but this is reserved for the expensive machinery running jet/turbine engines. As these are not in the realm of GA I'll simply say I've never had such a system let me down.

However I still reserve the right to do this:

greggj wrote:
Flintstone wrote:
greggj wrote:...actually physically...


Last edited by Flintstone on Tue Jan 08, 2013 10:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By Keef
greggj wrote:How much the actual buffet of wings contributed to getting rid of ice ? My understanding is that wings actually physically 'vibrate/shake' a bit when that happens.

I never noticed it - but others may have had more icing than I have. I doubt that buffeting would shed much ice.
The buffet may be the pre-stall buffet, which is very scary. You really wouldn't want to go there with a load of ice.

The other scary bit (which I have been through, but not as P1) is when ice flying off the propeller bangs on the side of the aircraft.
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By Rich T
A very scary story!

I've heard it suggested that, if icing is a possibility, you should disconnect the a/p and hand-fly so you can more easily detect any trim changes caused by ice build-up. Do you think that might have helped in your circumstances?
By mutt***
Used to fly a T-tail beechjet, it had an electrical heating mat on the leading edge of the horizontal stabiliser, if this failed, the tail was very susceptible to icing. One of the tricks that sim instructors used on us was to fail the heater, get you to hand fly the aircraft with approach flap, then select landing flap, if we survived, they would explain that the change of airflow created by the landing flaps hit the iced-up stabiliser in such a way that an immediate dive was guaranteed....

Interesting learning experience.

By denopa
Great post.
You may want to change it to anonymous given IMC flying outside the UK without an IR.
On the subject - during IMC (and IR) training, you're told to add an I for Icing at the end of your Freda check. On planes with autopilots I think it's good form to change it to FREDAIT, checking the trim as well - what you describe seems to be a fairly standard way to kill oneself, plane picks ice, A/P trims nose up and it goes unnoticed...