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By Patricia Mattison
Reprinted with permission of FAA Aviation News

Stress is a normal part of most folk's lives. Most of us have felt stressed to the limit at one time or another. Stress can be good or bad depending on the situation. Stress plays an important part when it comes to sorting out priorities. A temporary loss of the ability to think out things clearly and completely can be caused by stress. My husband goes through a stressful, yet thankfully temporary, mental lapse every time he loses his car keys. He starts out calmly looking for the keys, but when he can't find them where he thought they should be, he begins to run around the house looking for them. Stress has taken over and panic is about to commence.

Now granted the lost key episode is just an example of how most of us act when things don't go quite as planned. We have all had stressful moments in our lives. Unless, that is, you live in a closed environment with no contact from the outside world. In the realm of flying, calmness usually prevails. Every so often, however, chaos reigns supreme. It is said that flying is hours and hours of absolute boredom interspersed by moments of sheer panic.

If you have ever piloted an aircraft you can relate to the above. If outside stresses are at work when a problem arises, it becomes difficult to sort out the correct solution. Reason and logic are necessary for a successful outcome in any situation.

A while ago a pilot had decided to take a trip that required flying over some relatively high mountains. He was flying his twin-engine airplane and was so familiar with the aircraft and the related systems. A short period of time had passed since takeoff and the pilot was over a series of hills that were at the base of the mountains. He had had a restless night with little or no sleep.

The flight that day was one of many that he had taken for his business. He felt that he had to go even though he was stressed because of his commitment at the destination. The stress he was feeling was magnified by his lack of sleep. He had his wife on the flight, which also added to the stress level. He wanted the flight to be perfect for her sake. Encountering weather, he hesitated to turn back because of his commitments.

The plane entered a limited visibility situation and impacted the top of a mountain along the route. Stress beyond belief became a panic attack for the pilot. He wife was injured and he had to find help. He left her alone and went to find a road and somebody to help her. By the time he had returned to the crash site his wife had died as a result of the accident. She hadn't been wearing a seatbelt and had impacted the yoke of the airplane.

The stresses that had built up prior to the flight'lack of sleep and the drive to make a business commitment'combined to interfere in the decision making process.

This pilot had a serious accident, which resulted in the loss of his wife. Small stresses had combined to interfere with the orderly construction of the thought process necessary to avoid getting into a bad situation. There are many examples of poor decision-making brought on by life's stresses.

Look at yourself carefully for signs of stress before making any flight. Have there been any stressful events in your life that might impact the safety of your flight. If you see that there are, postpone the flight until a time when life is less stressful.

Patricia Mattison is the Safety Program Manager at the Juneau Flight Standards District Office, AK.

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