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Mountain Biking in Sedona, Severe Turbulence

May, 2005

My wife and I went to Sedona for a weekend of mountain biking.  We stayed up on the airport plateau at the Sky Ranch Lodge, which can’t be beat for being close to the airport.   We rented a car to get around, and used a small bike rack that attaches to the back trunks of cars that I use when renting (cheaper than renting an SUV or van).  The riding was great, but the real story of the trip was what happened on the way out.

We all make mistakes, and fortunately in aviation it typically takes a series of them to do you in.  My mistake was not paying attention to the winds aloft.  We were flying through Mammoth pass (that huge cleft just north of Mammoth Mountain) and just about Mammoth Mountain.  It was smooth ride, which suckered me into thinking that the winds were not an issue.  Once we got through the pass, I said, “Hey, you haven’t seen Mammoth Mountain from the air, let me show you”.    I guess hat should have been a clue too, as most accidents in aviation are preceded with the words, “Watch this”, or “Let me show you something”.

I had turned into the lee of Mammoth Mountain and there were indeed strong winds, its just we were in the laminar flow above the mountains.  But the winds tumbled over Mammoth, even a bit above the summit, and developed an invisible but violent rotor.

The plane just dropped and rotated without a sign of turbulence.  I hit my head on the roof and my wife screamed.  Not good.  I immediately dropped the landing gear to slow down and pulled the power way back (you need to slow down in turbulence for maximum plane strength).  We were in severe turbulence and I turned away from the mountain and glided and bumped down (I should have turned around, but getting down away from the mountain seemed more important at the time).  We gradually smoothed out, but my poor wife had shaky hands for the rest of the flight.

The thing that bugs me about that is that I fly probably 85% of the time without her in the plane.  But of course when this happens she is right there to experience it.  No wonder flying makes her nervous.

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