Critical Stress Incident Debriefing?
During the late Eighties, I was 17 years old and training for my private pilot certificate. I had already attended the Minnesota Solo Encampment and was getting back up to speed so I could solo in my local area. I was training in a CAP corporate aircraft. My instructor was a CAP mission pilot, and we had a fellow student in our back seat: he was just observing to help his own training. My instructor was about 24 years old, the backseater about 23.
It just so happened that day, while performing ground reference maneuvers in our practice area, we picked up an ELT signal. Not shying away from any challenge, my instructor told me what to do, in terms of flying, to locate the target. He worked the DF unit, of course.
In any case, we found our target that day. It was the wreckage of two aircraft in one lump. The first aircraft was a Cessna 182 loaded with 5 parachute jumpers. The pilot of that aircraft had been making a straight-out departure. The second aircraft was of a Piper Cherokee, piloted by a man and his wife. He had been making a nonstandard traffic entry to the uncontrolled field. The high wing was climbing and the low wing was descending; it was a classic midair.
Local police, ambulance, and coroner crews were already on scene when we overflew the wreckage. They didn't know enough to silence the ELTs. What was most disturbing about the grisly scene was what we couldn't see. I clearly remember a very large, blue tent-tarp blowing in the wind. It was very visible from 500 AGL. Under it were the remains of those 7 victims.
I went home from that lesson without thinking too much of the whole scene. But thereafter, I couldn't think of anything else. The next morning's paper had a picture of the two twisted lumps of metal--and in the background, that blue tarp. I had to talk to someone about this. CAP had not instituted the Critical Stress Incident Debriefing program by chaplains at that time. If it had, I would have used it. The other members of the aircrew I had flown with weren't disturbed as I was. It didn't bother them any more than passing a roadway accident, I suppose.
It bothered me, however. I was new to flying and the SAR business. I knew someone I had soloed with, however, who had a similar experience in Shell Lake, Wisconsin--so I called her. The conversation that we had that day has turned into what is now one of my best friendships. She only relayed her experiences and how she dealt with them.
There are many morals to this story. First, the most dangerous part of skydiving is the trip up. Second, CLEAR!!! The only thing that will kill you RIGHT NOW in an airborne airplane is ANOTHER AIRPLANE. Know your blindspots (high wing=blind spot high) and clear them with a turn or two. Third, make standard AIM traffic entries and departures. Fourth, remember that even rescue professionals will take a day off after something really bothers them--and they'll talk about it with peers. Fifth, I found that the old "getting back in the saddle" can sometimes really help clear your mind and, on even rarer occaisions, the only way you know you're back on the ground is when you only HEAR the wheels start to roll. I must have done 15 touch and gos that next day.
The NTSB summary for this accident is at: http://www.ntsb.gov/Aviation/CHI/91A088B.htm
This page of the CAP Emergency Services Resources™ website was last updated 07/01/2008
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