Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Microlight Adventure Tragedy

The loss of the microlight adventurer, Martin Bromage, in the English Channel yesterday is very sad news.

He took-off from Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton for the 11,000-mile trip to Australia yesterday morning and ran into the almost predictable barrier of fog between Dover and Boulogne. I suspect, with a record-breaking trip on his mind, he was reluctant to turn around and pressed on and then found himself trapped with no avenue of escape.

A number of years ago, I was on a day trip to Le Touquet at this time of year and ran into something similar. At the time, I had a brand new private pilot IMC rating, which qualified me to fly on instruments (get out of trouble) and I suddenly found myself with fog on all sides. I beat a hasty retreat back towards Dover but wrote the experience up in Pilot Magazine as a lesson to others.

Even with the benefit of an instrument rating, thick fog when you are on your own in an aircraft lies somewhere between unnerving and downright worrying. In a microlight, without basic attitude instruments, I can't think of anything worse. When I first started training as a pilot, I was told the average life expectancy of a pilot in cloud and without an instrument qualification was less than 120 seconds. Once cloud or fog, the same thing in principle wraps around you, then you have no idea what is up and down and only the instruments in front of you tell the truth. These can insist you are flying straight and level but your senses, without the benefit of an outside view of the world can be screaming that you are flying at a ninety degree angle and going up or down. I always admire the calm of airline passengers when coming into an airport in thick fog because they have little idea of how challenging and stressful it can be up on the flight deck, even with a fully computerized landing system.

I'm sure other adventurers will try and break the record and you may recall, I wrote, last year, about meeting Brian Milton, when he dropped into Maypole; the man who crossed the Atlantic in a microlight. It's both sad and ironic in this particular tragedy, that the 17 miles of English Channel still represents one of the most dangerous weather obstacles to overcome in a flight to Australia.

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