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  • 36

Houston Controller Talks VFR Pilot Stuck On Top Down To A Safe Landing

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It was no leisure flight Sunday for Mark Nelson when he found himself trapped above the clouds over a heavily populated area. His only way down? To put his life in the hands of an air traffic controller. (www.khou.com) More...

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ADXbear
ADXbear 9
Good for the ATC controller, and great luck for the pilot and people on the ground... I'm with all of you, get your IFR ticket.. after you serve a 30 to 90 day suspension for not properly planning your flight.. "Get your Instrument man"...
IFRcowboy
Rob Warren 7
Get your IFR ticket!!!
btweston
btweston 5
I'm reminded of you Ferris Bueller speaking about a Ferarri: "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."
WeatherWise
WeatherWise 11
"There was no airport around within several hundred miles that was visual conditions," said Hugh McFarland. Now maybe I'm crazy, but it seems not being instrument rated and getting a weather briefing before takeoff would have kept him on the ground. He's fortunate he didn't become another spatial disorientation statistic.
IFRcowboy
Rob Warren 9
Shouldn't of taken to the sky to start with.
preacher1
preacher1 3
I've got to agree on the get there-itis. He acts just like cause he flew it every week, nothing was supposed to get in his way. FAA needs to tag him good; then he needs to get his IFR or stay on the ground.
preacher1
preacher1 1
By the ground it is only 261 miles from Kerrville to Houston. Was all of South TX socked in?
BaronG58
BaronG58 2
Yes it was a cold dreary damp day in these parts. Wife and I were in Houston visiting our grand daughter and when we departed KHOU for Kdal it was soup all the way. Not sure what this guy was thinking (or not thinking).
preacher1
preacher1 2
Must have been bad as he didn't break out until about 800'. That's soup. He couldn't have been thinking much. I like the comment above; DUMB A**
BaronG58
BaronG58 1
Bet he called himself that when it was all over.
preacher1
preacher1 1
captainfifi
Fiona Horne 3
I don't understand why he was flying in IMC on a VFR ticket? Did he not get WX before taking off? Did he not have a flight plan? Why didn't he divert to an alternate when weather got bad? Seems like poor and dangerous flight plan.
Good on ATC for talking him down....but he shouldn't have been there in the first place
carlsonj
James Carlson 4
To be clear, he was in VMC when he called for help. VFR over the top is legal in the US for Private Pilots and does not require special equipment nor an IFR rating nor any specific clearance (except, of course, for any airspace specific requirements). The US regulations limit student pilots (61.89(a)(7)) and sport pilots (61.315(c)(13)) to flight with reference to the surface, but no such limits are placed on private pilots. (People sometimes cite 91.507 in the context, but that's incorrect; it applies only to turbine and fractional operations. There are other limitations that apply to part 135 operations.)

In most other countries, VFR over the top requires an instrument rating. And, of course, "legal" isn't always exactly the same as "smart."
theworm
Robert Austen 1
In Canada. one can fly VFR-OTT with a commercial license, or an instrument rating, or with a VFR-OTT rating.

The VFR-OTT rating doesn't have the strict currency requirements of an instrument rating, and is not tied to the commercial medical. It is useful for cross country flight where the weather is mostly good, but one needs to get above/past some annoying lower layer of cloud en route.

And I agree completely with legal does not equal smart!
preacher1
preacher1 3
I imagine he was thinking he'd get good sympathy and hurrah after this deal rather than catch all the hell that he has. He's still a Dumb A**
preacher1
preacher1 3
And it probably is a feel good thing from the general non flying public but not from the aviation communtity
lyonstom2003
Tom Lyons 1
Have they booked him on "Today" or "GMA" yet?
preacher1
preacher1 1
He probably has it on his mind but he is still a DUMB A**. FAA needs to pull his ticket and make him start over.
carlsonj
James Carlson 2
Here's a recording of the incident. The recording has horrible noise in the right channel, so mute that and listen to left only. :-/

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/47849637/Houston%20Flight%20Assist/HM%20Flight%20assist%2011-16-14.wav
imarks72
ivan marks 2
Glad he's OK, but I'm really not happy to see him talking with the news at all about this incident. The viewing public will now have THIS guy as their impression of GA pilots rather than someone who represents the intelligent views I'm reading below. Would an instrument rating help him? Possibly, but his decision-making on the ground is where his real weakness lies - in my opinion.
bjohnson09
Bryce Johnson 2
Maybe a little "Get-there-itis" since he makes the trip every week....Not a good choice to fly that day, but glad he made it down. Kudos to the controller and...hard to say...but even the pilot for staying calm and following instructions.
patpylot
patrick baker 2
One does not find themselves "trapped" above the clouds- one does a series of dumb and illegal practices to place themselves in jeopardy. Kudos to the controller for the skill to be helpful, and it may have been also helpful if the aircraft had a wing-leveler feature, a way to not have vertigo in the equation. Having a full fuel tank is sometimes a good idea too, and the willingness to make a 180 to get away from a developing stupid situation. This pilot should take a vacation from pilot-in-command and think a bit about his good luck. I think the FAA should insist on this. I have been IFR for 30 years.
jbqwik
jbqwik 2
I try not to second guess the events, but this guy seems just a little too smug. Quote the pilot, "I'm that guy..". Yup.
royalbfh
royalbfh 2
Great that the controller was helpful but agree with some of other comments. I am instrument rated and I STILL check, dbl check and even delay a departure if I feel like the WX is more of an issue than I want to tackle. Glad he is ok but maybe "non-Maverick" will go get his IFR rating..
dy1128
Lee Doughty 2
Who gave that pilot his last BFR? That is when bad habits need to be corrected.
wb2cjs
wb2cjs 2
If you fly "to Kerrville" or anywhere else every week, you should get an instrument rating. VFR is great for pleasure flying, but not sufficient to keep a schedule.
BaronG58
BaronG58 2
You're right...especially here in Texas where the weather can change on a dime.
fenclbogus
Ray Fencl 2
I'll stick with the dumb-ass comments. I commuted Lake Geneva,WI to MDW every weekday for three years. The main rule: Check weather and get some pireps before taking off. A Cessna 172 doesn't like ice and either do I. I have 200 actual instrument hours, but still worried a lot about weather. If it looked like thunderstorms or icing we'd drive to the train station and get to work at 11 AM instead of 8:30. One day we I knew we had stretched it a little too much when we called a left downwind for 31L and the tower asked us to squawk ident. No IFR light on the tower. I bet my companion it would be turned on as we landed. It was and I was the dumb-ass that day.
preacher1
preacher1 3
Some would call hero, I call 0 as this puts all the hard IFR work done by anybody as an afterthought. Tis good he got down but he needs an FAA suspension and a force to get an IFR cert to get back in the air.
shuras85
shuras85 2
Mark Nelson needs an FAA check ride.
preacher1
preacher1 2
yep, and start plumb over
BaronG58
BaronG58 2
Yep...the 709 letter is probably already in the mail.
geegnome
Allen Bray 2
To quote Leslie Winkle (BBT), "Dumba$$!"
num1tailhooker
You cannot cure stupidity.
ToddBaldwin3
ToddBaldwin3 1
Didn't we just have an incident like this in Austin, seems like it was in the last year. This guy reminds of him, same kind of apparent attitude too.
ToddBaldwin3
ToddBaldwin3 1
I should do my homework before I post:

http://flightaware.com/squawks/view/1/unset/user/40529/FAA_guides_small_plane_through_storm_into_Austin
ryoder
Ryan Yoder 1
I don't think its that huge of a deal. The guy got stuck on top and got radar vectors to final. I'm working on my instrument rating also and this would have been an option for me if I got stuck on top too. In Florida weather develops quickly and you never know when partial clouds will turn into overcast.
preacher1
preacher1 4
I think the thing here is that he has made such a media circus out of it and painted himself as a victim. He made mention that he flew it every week and like he was entitled to it. Several in this thread were there on the ground and the wx had been there for awhile. It ain't but about 250 miles across South TX and it was definitely there before he left. I agree with what you said about getting stuck on top but this guy apparently had made no effort toward his IFR. He is a dumb a** for leaving in the first place. Should have got in the car and drove.
ryoder
Ryan Yoder 1
There shouldn't have even been coverage of this. I agree.
devsfan
ken young 1
Obviously this pilot did not procure a weather briefing or file a flight plan. Had he done the former, he'd have known it wasn't his day to fly. Had he done the latter, he'd have found out the former.
Now I have to ask of you licensed pilots, what's the fallout?
BaronG58
BaronG58 2
Ken..As I said in earlier post I was in Houston that day and flew back to Dallas that day. VFR pilot didn't need to get a weather briefing ... just needed to roll over in bed and peek out the window..watch the morning news. As to fallout...he will be answering a lot of questions and better have some good answers,
iflyrjs
Seen it happen many times in the NW with non IFR rated pilots the wx can change in a matter of minutes GET your IFR TICKET
preacher1
preacher1 3
I think he ought to get it too but if he didn't break out til 7-800', he was in soup. In big iron, that would have been close to a CAT 1 and you would have already been on DH and looking. He is lucky he got down however way.
timberbailey1
jim russell 1
Glad he made it safely, would be good idea to get a instrument ticket anyhow. I guess no one on this forum has ever been stuck on top. ATC Did their job perfect as usual. I have had many briefings in 12,000 hours that half are accurate. Don't let these posters kill your desire to fly. If you do not get your rating at least get some experience on the gauges only. There are always more than one source for WX as well. I am sure you learned a lot from this. As I know I have got in bad situations which pushes back my comfort zone. Every pilot that has any amount of time has had a emergency. Fly safe.
mycroft
Michael Bevan 1
Whatever you say about pilot judgement the controller should be nominated for this years Archie award!
patpylot
patrick baker 1
what I found comforting was, that when the weather turned into instrument conditions, the amateurs, the vfr pilots were absent from the skies, and everybody up there was presumed to be more competent. Now this guy ruins that thought, and he does not seem to be apologetic at all. 90 days suspension seems hardly adequate.
bishops90
Brian Bishop 1
On top of everything else he should get from the FAA is a bill for the ATC's time to talk him down. Some may say "well that's his job" (ATC), and that's true, but the time it took him to bail this D/A out of his own mistake, he could've been doing his real job - directing the rest of the A/C whose pilots were following the rules.
carlsonj
James Carlson 1
I don't agree. Some pilots already fail to declare an emergency when necessary, possibly due to a fear of "paperwork." We don't need to compound that error by making pilots think they'll be on the hook for outrageous fees if they declare an "unnecessary emergency."

Yes, I agree that what happened here seems to have been his fault, and that the time that ATC took to help him was probably expensive and could even have come to the detriment of other aircraft, but that's what emergency services are for. They exist to save lives, and not just for "deserving" victims of happenstance.

To know whether the special attention actually cost anyone anything (aside from possibly clearing airspace during the event; I'll grant you that), you'd have to know whether the ATC system had the reserve capacity to deal with the normal load of traffic plus this one emergency. If it did not, and the emergency hurt other users, then you have an argument, but I'd also say that the system is designed with far too little capacity. If it did have the capacity, then no harm came to those "following the rules," and the argument doesn't hold water.

The punishment (retraining, et cetera) should help make sure that this doesn't happen again, but shouldn't cause others to do something even worse in the future.
preacher1
preacher1 1
Well, I say again, if he didn't break out til 7-800 feet, that's CATI country on big iron, depending on how far out he was when he broke out. By his own admission, he wasn't very far. It is good that all ended well but he just cast an arrogant impression that because he flew it every week, he was entitled to it and seemed to be taking superstar status from it rather than repentance in the fact that he screwed up by not having an IFR or at least working toward it. South Texas weather is not always pleasant. What will happen next time?
carlsonj
James Carlson 1
It's frightening, but 700 AGL is above minimums for a typical NPA (including VOR/DME Rwy 4 at KHOU). Though, of course, if it's that low, I'd certainly want to be on a precision Cat 1 approach instead.

But that's not the point. Yes, I agree that the rip he gets should make sure that he doesn't do this again. I just disagree that the right way to do that is to assess fees for emergency services.

Assessing fees (and getting the FAA to compute those fees based on services rendered) is to head down a very dark path indeed. The best that could come from it would be that some unfortunate people would die due to delaying emergency requests. The worst would be a general fee-for-service that ends up hurting everyone for a very long time to come.

Let's not do that.
preacher1
preacher1 1
Well there are 46 comments/opinions on here and mine will make 47, but most of them have NOT BEEN supportive of his actions. Personally, if I would have seen 7-800 feet, I'd have just lined up on the CAT 1 and been done with it. Ok City can handle him as they see fit.
preacher1
preacher1 1
Everyone of us will get in trouble of some kind and need some help of some kind at some point or other in our career. We don't by any means, as you say, want to discourage asking. It just don't need to be routine.
timberbailey1
jim russell 1
by routine are you saying this has happened with this pilot before? no quite sure of the comment.i am curious to all these assumptions, did he get a briefing or we are not sure and did they tell him IMC at destination or IMC at his alternate because the controller said he should have broken out at 2,000' so somebody was advertising weather or pirep for that comment.. until than i will reserve my opinion.
preacher1
preacher1 1
All I am saying is that it doesn't get to be routine with him and that is the impression he cast. A PPL should get weather of some type before leaving. Had he at least looked at it, he would have seen wx over there. It did not just come up. Several IFR pilots have commented on here that they were over there and it had been there awhile, certainly more than is 2-3 hour flight over there. He didn't look. If he had've, he'd have stayed on the ground. I'm outa here for the ball game. WPS
carlsonj
James Carlson 1
I'm certainly not supportive of his actions as reported. I don't know how anything I've written could be interpreted otherwise.

I'm taking square aim at the notion of "fee for service" applied to emergency services. There are certainly examples of this outside the aviation industry, and, for all I know, they may well work reasonably well there. But given the nature of the industry, many of us have to work with ATC all of the time, so it's not at all the same relationship as between (say) an ill-equipped hiker lost in the woods and a park ranger.

I think having a pay-per-use fee for ATC services is a monumentally bad idea because of the way the system works, and I'm not at all willing to entertain the idea that apparent bad decisions on the part of a VFR pilot changes that fundamental equation.

No part of the camel's nose, please!

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