128 seconds to death: Pilots navigate dangerous weather

SAFE PILOTING: Anthony Lawler, airspace operations co-ordinator with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, arrived in Wagga this week to share a message of safey. Picture: Emma Horn
SAFE PILOTING: Anthony Lawler, airspace operations co-ordinator with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, arrived in Wagga this week to share a message of safey. Picture: Emma Horn

On a short flight across the NSW Riverina, hobby pilot Anthony Lawler found himself surrounded by approaching storms.

Although he has been flying for two decades, he considers himself a relative novice having only obtained his piloting licence a year ago.

This particular incident, he recalls, took place during his solo training navigation assessment and was therefore one of the first times he had charted his flight on his own.

"I was over Temora and some unforecast adverse weather came through," Mr Lawler said.

A high north wind pushed Mr Lawler off-course, leading him to Harden, where he took a look at the surrounding areas in the hopes of circumnavigating the storm.

But across the horizon, at Forbes, more bad weather was approaching.

"I made it to Cootamundra, but I didn't go any further," Mr Lawler said.

"I turned back home and made it back to Canberra."

That experience taught Mr Lawler a valuable lesson for all of his future flights.

"I was pleased within myself that I made that decision early because there was a moment when I thought I might be able to press on," he said.

In his role as a airspace operations co-ordinator with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Mr Lawler now travels the country impressing fellow pilots with the need to "make your decisions early".

"We see accidents when people have pressed on when they shouldn't have in bad weather," Mr Lawler said.

"In those situations, an untrained pilot has an average lifespan of 128 seconds. After that, if they haven't made an emergency landing, it can end in a bad outcome."

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This week, Mr Lawler arrived in Wagga to share his safety message to a room of commercial and hobby pilots.

He said there are no "major concerns for bad weather in Wagga" or the Riverina.

But the message is one that is particularly virtuous in Wagga, Mr Lawler said, because it is a city that holds within its boundaries passenger pilots, junior pilots through the air school, and hobbyist all at once.

"The message is that it's all about decision making in bad weather," Mr Lawler said.

"There are specific minimums that need to be complied with, so even when you've read the forecast and it's marginal so you go ahead and fly, then things change for the worst, you can make a safe decision.

"Accidents and fatalities happen when people push on in weather that is beyond their minimums. Make a precautionary decision, land early before you're forced to make an emergency landing in a paddock somewhere."

This story 128 seconds to death: Pilots navigate dangerous weather first appeared on The Daily Advertiser.