"Sarah" is now in High Level, Canada
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The flight from Watson Lake to High Level would be simple enough: take off to the east, fly a few miles south, then the rest of the nearly 400-mile trip east. Laura, against her better judgment decided to save her flight plan on a computer and load it into the plane’s GPS. Both she and “Sarah” thought it was really cool. Briefing done, run-up done, Laura called and got her clearance. GPS was already programmed. Ripping a quote of “Sarah’s,” Laura gushed, “it’s all good!”
The flight took off to the east, then turned south per the clearance, and began the climb to 12,000 feet through several layers of clouds.
Something’s Wrong With This Picture…
Something troubled Laura. This was a 400-mile flight. It should take about four hours. The GPS was reporting an estimated time enroute (ETE) of over five hours. “Huh?” Laura thought. Was the flight hitting a strong headwind? A flight this long would push fuel burn far beyond what is legal under IFR. No headwind. The flight, in fact had a 20-knot tailwind. It should take less time, not more! Laura’s heart sank. “Sarah” was sitting three inches from her. “Sarah” knew her way around airplanes because her husband is a pilot. And simple women’s intuition – Laura knew that “Sarah” knew there was a problem. “OK…fly the plane. We’re doing that. Let’s think this through…I would not have planned a flight nearly six hours long in a Cessna 172,” she thought. “Planned…flight plan…check that GPS…ugh…why is Ft. St. John on this route?”
Laura had been considering stopping at Ft. St. John rather than High Level. Ft. St. John would have been a more direct southeasterly route to Edmonton City Centre. But Ft. St. John does not have any instrument approaches. Laura had added High Level and forgot to remove Ft. St. John. That added a diversion which would have been nearly 200 miles. Laura requested a descent to 11,000 feet, amended the flight plan with the controller, but the GPS flight plan had to be erased. Rather than re-enter the whole thing, since the flight only had to pass two waypoints before High Level, Laura just entered each segment manually, changing at the transition.
Even pilots with thousands of hours logged make mistakes. Most important is to fly the plane…and let your blood run a little cold. So, you made a mistake. Fix it, move on and don’t let it lead to more.
Shrouded in Clouds
The skies over the low hills started off clear, then turned into solid cumulus clouds. For over 40 minutes, the flight would be shrouded in clouds. With the GPS programming problem resolved and correct time enroute established, the situation became more relaxed. “Sarah” and Laura talking about a variety of subjects.
The cloud-enclosed hills gave way to flat forested terrain and clear skies punctuated by occasional clouds.
The controller directed Laura to turn toward the southeast and descend to 3100 feet. She had been given a visual approach, but loaded an instrument approach just in case. On the descent, the air became turbulent. Laura knew that this meant the weather was changing. Closer to the destination, weather started deteriorating. Low clouds began to form. Laura requested the instrument approach, which would lead the flight straight to the runway.
The final turn was punctuated by strong turbulence, which persisted on the approach which would take them over tall trees, then a sudden drop to the runway. “This landing is going to be – ugh – firm,” Laura said. “Sarah” knew. She was familiar with these bush country airports. True to her promise, Laura planted the plane firmly on terra firma, and rolled off to parking.
“It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t your fault; it wasn’t the plane’s fault. It was the asphalt!” she said, repeating an old pilot’s joke.
But, Laura felt awful. She felt like she let “Sarah” down – quite literally. “Landing. Pfft! Controlled crash is more like it!” Laura thought. “Ugh, “Sarah,” I need to tell you something. I’m really sorry…”
“Oh, I know what happened with the flight plan and your landing was just fine for this airport,” “Sarah” said, pausing and looking Laura directly in the eyes.
“It’s all good.”
"Sarah" and Laura are now 1,051 nautical miles from Wasilla. Their journey to Washington, D.C. is about one third complete.
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donating to the Sarah Palin Legal Defense Fund
Last year, the Alaska Fund Trust was established to raise money to defend Gov. Palin against frivolous ethics complaints and lawsuits that were filed against her in a coordinated effort to drive her out of office. On June 24, 2010, the Alaska Fund Trust was replaced by Sarah Palin Legal Defense Fund. Those of you who donated to the Alaska Fund Trust will be receiving refunds within 90 days from June 24. You will have the option to re-donate these funds to the new Sarah Palin Legal Defense Fund, which is the official, and legitimate fund now in existence. Please re-donate those funds to the Sarah Palin Legal Defense Fund.