05/12/05 — Incredible! Ultimate in pilot irresponsibility

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Incredible! Ultimate in pilot irresponsibility

In these times of widespread concern over terrorist attacks, it is incredible that a certified flight instructor — or even a student pilot — would have ignored clearly designated no-fly zones and flown within three miles of the White House and Capitol building.

Instructor pilot Jim Sheaffer of Lititz, Pa., and student pilot Troy Martin of Akron, Pa., are fortunate that they were not shot down by the two Air Force fighters and the helicopter that intercepted them.

This is especially true in light of reports that even after their little Cessna 150 was diverted from the course that would have taken it over the White House, it did a dog-leg that indicated it might resume its original course.

As it turned out, whoever was calling the shot — in this case not calling the shot — can be credited with sparing the lives of the pilots and perhaps innocent people on the ground.

It had to be a tough decision made when the aircraft was two minutes from the White House or Capitol.

All kinds of second guessing is being voiced in Washington and across the country in the wake of the incident.

Had the military pilots shot down the Cessna and it killed or injured people on the ground, there would have been cries of “over-reaction.” Indeed, there already has been such ridiculous criticism of those who called for evacuation of the major government buildings.

And, conversely, had the plane crashed into the White House or Capitol, the powers that be would today be the targets of public outrage.

Perhaps Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California put the incident in its proper perspective. She said that when something like this happens, “we learn something.”

There will, of course, be reviews and critiques, perhaps some revisions. But in this instance, all’s well that ends well. For that, there can be no serious rebuke of anyone — except the pilots.

Instructor Sheaffer and student pilot Martin have not been charged. But they certainly should be grounded forever. They have shown the ultimate in irresponsible conduct on the part of aviators.

Published in Editorials on May 12, 2005 10:58 AM