No Thanks to the Media

Media coverage of the Hassayampa River flooding turns Wickenburg’s airspace into a danger zone of low-flying aircraft.

Wickenburg was on the news quite a bit this past weekend. It seems that the Phoenix-area news teams heard about the damage on Jack Burden Road and decided to fly up to get some live footage. At various times, each of the Phoenix TV helicopters were in town, beaming images of the new waterfront housing back to the city. It was just the kind of disaster the media likes and they made good use of it.

Of course, it also created a tourist attraction for pilots in the Phoenix area. I nearly had a close encounter with one of them on Sunday.

I’d just departed the airport, heading out toward Lake Pleasant. My normal path takes me over the river near town. My normal altitude is 500 AGL, far below the altitudes most airplanes fly. So imagine my surprise when I saw a single engine airplane slightly below my altitude, flying right up the river toward me.

I took evasive action, veering to the east and climbing. (My usual evasive maneuver to avoid airplanes is to descend, since they’re normally above me, so this was weird.) “Airplane over Wickenburg, are you on frequency?” I asked into the radio.

No answer.

This pissed me off. The guy was less than 5 miles from an operating airport and he wasn’t even on the airport frequency. There were at least two other airplanes in the area — I’d heard both of them on the radio. There was a real danger of one of them meeting up with this idiot in the air.

“Wickenburg traffic, be advised that there is a low-flying airplane over the town, flying up the Hassayampa River. He is not on frequency.”

John, who was working at the FBO, made some comment I didn’t catch. The airplane passed below us, to our right. We continued flying out of town, now avoiding the river and any other aerial tourists it may have attracted.

The only thing I regret is that I didn’t get the jerk’s N-Number. He was close enough to see it, but I was more concerned with getting out of his way than identifying him. Next time will be different.

What do you think?