With the fatal crash of a Cessna 140 in Nebraska last week during an STOL contest, we were again faced with the question of whether or not we post graphic video of a crash in which someone well known in our community has perished. The issue takes us back to the crash in Idaho of an SIAI-Marchetti SM.109, in which former Naval aviator and popular aviation figure Dale “Snort” Snodgrass died, has ignited controversy in aviation circles, and it’s not about the circumstances of the crash itself but the aftermath of it.
As you likely know, the crash took place in late July at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport in Lewiston, Idaho. The small plane is a turboprop-powered Italian SIAI-Marchetti taildragger, sometimes referred to as the Italian Bird Dog, because of its resemblance to the Cessna L-19 Bird Dog. Snodgrass had just gotten clearance to take off from the tower when things started to go immediately wrong.
This we know because tower surveillance video surfaced late last week that graphically shows the very short flight and subsequent crash. Even more upsetting, at least to me, is that it contained the audio from the tower feed, including the pilot’s transmissions.
Plane & Pilot won’t be hosting this video, which I made the mistake of watching and was horrified by.
I had known Dale for many years, and though we weren’t close friends, we were friends nevertheless. We talked airplanes at evening social gatherings and chatted occasionally while watching performers fly at airshows. Not surprisingly, we had many mutual friends. Like everyone else, I was struck by how smart the guy was. He didn’t miss a thing, and he was incredibly knowledgeable about aircraft across different segments too. He was also, well not humble exactly..let’s just say he didn’t have a fake bone in his body. There was none of the self-promotion and self-importance that you get with some warbird pilots. He didn’t need any of it. He was the real deal, and then some.
When I said he was “a former Naval aviator,” I could have said that he was one of the most famous and highly respected Naval aviators of his era. He flew Tomcats, and one shot of him flying knife-edge past the deck of a carrier is epic.
So, to see the video of him crashing in an unsurvivable mishap was heart rending by itself. I can only imagine how devastating it would have been for those who were close to him.
I don’t really have to imagine too hard, though, because his widow, Cynthia, has expressed her horror at the posting of it. In a post on her late husband’s Facebook page, she wrote, “Everyone has asked me if they can do anything to help me. The answer is, yes, yes you can help me. I want this video of horror of the last moments of my husband’s life removed from the Internet and YouTube.”
The video could be of use to investigators, and they should have been the only ones to see it. The NTSB has long taken the stand it would not release such material, including cockpit voice recorder audio in fatal crashes. We support the NTSB’s policy on this.
The two things the video reveals are one, that the plane pitched sharply nose up and then stalled, leading to a terrible crash that no one could have survived. The second thing is that Snodgrass, a pilot’s pilot, was somehow powerless to do anything about it, at least by the time he seemed to realize what the issue was. Those are clues that investigators will certainly look at very closely as they seek to discover what went so terribly wrong.
If there are other things they can glean from the video, I hope they do.
And I understand that we in aviation journalism often publish material that could be upsetting to the families of those involved in the tragedies. In our defense, few of those family members will ever see these stories from our niche industry, and in the case of widely distributed material, there’s little additional harm to be done or good to be accomplished once the material is in hundreds of places scattered around the Internet. There is a strong public interest to be served in the coverage of mishaps. Just not in this case.
With the crash that claimed Dale’s life, it seems different. Our family within GA isn’t small, but it’s still family. And the video showing the tragedy that befell someone as well known and much loved to so many in our circle as Dale was.. that’s something we’ll do what we can to keep from public view.