By now, most of you have seen the YouTube video of a small single-engine airplane coming in to St. Bart’s in the Caribbean and coming alarmingly close to a tourist/photographer who was snapping pics of the approaching plane.
The mainstream news, as usual, has been pretty clueless in their coverage of the event, and the aviation press, sadly, hasn’t been much better. The story is being covered by everyone as a “wow, you don’t see that every day” event instead of a serious near-multiple fatal accident that luckily didn’t happen.
To recap the story, a Cessna 172 (even the aviation media has gotten this wrong, with one outlet referring to it as a 182 and another as a 152) is on approach to Runway 10 and a photographer is standing right in front of the fence that divides the hillside road from the steep hill leading down to the airport. In the video of the encounter, the 172 just barely clears the fence and looks to nearly hit the photographer, the prop nearly taking his head off and a wheel looking to come close to his hand. The photographer, according to multiple news reports, claimed the airplane did hit him, grazing the hand with which he held the camera. He showed off a tire mark to other onlookers to prove his case.
The point that everyone seems to be missing, however, is that there were three giant failings in this near-tragic encounter.
First, the pilot was too low. You NEED to be very low, because the runway is so short and the hillside so close to it, and that if you’re too high, you’ll never land and get stopped in time. But the 172 in the photo was too low, almost hitting an onlooker, the fence and the hillside on short final. How low was he? Probably no more than 10 or 15 feet too low. That’s how demanding of an approach it is.
Second, the local municipality is derelict in letting cars (and even trucks) drive by under landing planes. The margins are too thin. It’s just as bad, or maybe worse, that they let onlookers stand right along the fence and take photographs. It’s not funny, as many of the spectators seem to think it is; there are real lives at stake.
Lastly, the photographer was nothing short of an idiot for putting himself in a position where a low-landing plane might literally take his head off. What is it about a plane coming in at 80 mph, its metal prop slicing the air (and, hopefully, just the air) in front of it that spells anything but danger?
It’s time for the municipality that controls both the roads around the airport and the airport itself to take a closer look at putting these kinds of close calls to an end before people die.