Close Calls is a column detailing the “close call” experiences of fellow pilots. Determining a close call can be quite subjective but for our purposes here a close call will be any situation where a pilot suddenly realizes the presence of a nearby aircraft that they were otherwise unaware of. Personally, I describe a close call as “closer than I’d prefer.” I invite you to contact me at CloseCalls@PCAS.ca or 1-888-PCAS-123 (GTA: 416-225-9266) to anonymously share your stories. I will collect the details and prepare the article for Close Calls. The experience shared and lessons learned will be of benefit to all readers. Confidentiality will be assured and I will not use your name or aircraft ident without your permission.
It was a very hot, hazy day in the middle of May. Our pilot and co-pilot were flying a VFR round robin from Toronto Buttonville to Ottawa and back to Buttonville cruising at 4500’ on the return leg from Ottawa. The only way to navigate was looking at the five or so miles on either side because the view off the nose was impaired by extreme haze. Were they to climb any higher the side visibility would have dropped to below three miles, but they opted not to fly any lower as they “were boiling alive at over 31 degrees Celsius.”
Inbound to CYKZ (Buttonville) abeam Bowmanville or thereabouts to the east, Toronto Terminal advises our pilots of traffic at their 12 o’clock position, same altitude, and five miles. Looking intently for their target they see nothing but white. Our co-pilot looks over to our pilot and says, “Maybe we should descen…” when suddenly the sentence is interrupted by ATC.
“[aircraft call sign], descend 4000… now!” barks ATC as our pilot almost by reflex puts the Bonanza in a steep descent. A few seconds and three hundred feet later, our pilots see a Cessna barrel on past overhead at what was their exact position only a few hundred feet higher and just a few seconds earlier.
This Cessna was cruising - assumingly VFR because he was not talking to anyone - at the wrong altitude (traveling eastbound at 4500 feet). Had our pilots not had the advantage of Terminal’s radar it could have been deadly. “Just goes to show what kind of people have their licenses and how easy it is to get in a plane!” exclaims our pilot in frustration.
As I continue to profess month after month, pilots need to use as many tools from their bag of tricks as they can in order to give us all our best chances for safe, uneventful flights. In this case, the fact that one of the aircraft was in communication with ATC appears to have saved at least three lives. Let me restate that. There’s a very good chance three or more souls may have perished if not for the use of flight following leading to an urgent command and an instinctive response.
Might things have been done a little differently by the pilots in either aircraft? Possibly. But the reality is the scenario played itself out as described and was what it was. And I have no doubt that day after day pilots quietly and peacefully cruise around unaware of the peril that may lay just beyond their field of view.
It needn’t be a terrifying notion though. Again, maintain a good lookout, use your radio, take advantage of ATC services, and use any other means available to…
Anthony Nalli is the Director of Canadian Development, General Aviation Collision Avoidance and President of SciDac Corporation/PCAS.ca. PCAS.ca is dedicated to the implementation of affordable collision avoidance devices in General Aviation with a mission to eliminate mid-air collisions and dramatically reduce close calls. Anthony can be reached at CloseCalls@PCAS.ca, 1-888-PCAS-123 (GTA: 416-225-9266), and www.PCAS.ca
As an interesting footnote, “Wings Over Canada,” Canada’s longest running aviation TV series, has recognized Close Calls columnist Anthony Nalli as “The most dedicated Canadian pilot: Anthony Nalli for his work on promoting flight safety with Portable Collision Avoidance Systems [supported by his wife Lisa].” We’d like to thank John Lovelace and his “Wings Over Canada” crew for their support and recognition of our efforts.