I would like to confess straight from the beginning that my carelessness could have cost me my life, and I hope you will all learn from my mistakes.
I was about to fly to Poland, to Krakow International Airport. Before the flight, I had prepared the route in a navigation software that provided up-to-date flight data, printed out required frequencies and the navigation log from this application, and filed a flight plan.
The flight was rather uneventful until the moment I was about to contact Žilina Tower.
The frequency I printed out had not been valid for about half a year already, it had changed in the meantime, and with the old one still being stored deep in my memory, I had not paid attention to that.
Unfortunately, this new frequency was not updated in the navigation software. I called said frequency, and all I heard was silence. I tried again while slowly approaching their CTR.
I was just about to switch back to Bratislava Information to verify the frequency of Žilina Tower with them, when suddenly someone did respond on the old one, and told me what I needed to know. Thanks to that, I managed to contact Žilina before entering their CTR, and to communicate with them as if nothing had happened.
Only at this point I actually realized what happened – the frequency I had printed out was no longer in use. I would certainly not have entered the CTR without calling, but I´d have to hold outside until I would have verified the correct frequency with Bratislava Information. I was really lucky that someone was still monitoring the old frequency.
Had I entered the CTR without clearance from the tower, it most likely would not have cost me my life, but I would have some serious explaining to do.
However, this was not the end. On my return flight back to Slovakia, I stopped at a small Polish airfield to refuel, submit a flight plan, and off I went.
I had verified the weather conditions for both legs prior to departing from Krakow, that is about three hours before my departure for the final leg. I was aware it was about to be a bit cloudy, the ceiling maybe a tad lower, but still all information pointed to a safe VFR flight.
So, now I am flying peacefully, and when I approach the Martinské hole Hills, I see clouds piling up under me. It only took a while, and suddenly I no longer had visual contact with the ground. And on top of that, there were no suitable diversion airfields in my vicinity, not mentioning the fact that even if there were any, I simply would not have seen them. In such conditions, I decided to continue at altitude 7000 ft towards Pieštany, where I saw a hole in the clouds sufficient for me to descend. I descended successfully, the visibility under the cloud ceiling was good enough, so I continued towards my destination.
Not to leave everything up to chance, I contacted Bratislava Information to request the latest weather information for Bratislava airport, and the response I was given sounded well enough to go on with the flight.
However, when approaching Trnava, I flew into solid IMC, not only under me – it was all around.
Eyes glued to the altimeter, artificial horizon, compass and airspeed indicator, my GPS indicated that somewhere “over there” was the Dubová airfield, my destination, and I flew on hoping that the weather clears out, and I would be able to land.
Well, I did not land. I was about 1500 feet horizontally and 300 feet vertically from the airfield and saw neither the village nor the airfield. Even worse, I could not see the Little Carpathians rising up right behind the village.
I made a one-eighty surrounded by a white wall, and using only the instruments I headed for Boleráz, where the runway is longer, and a bit further away from the hills.
Fortunately, I did find the airfield, made a low pass stuck between the clouds above and trees below me, turned 270 degrees to join the final, and safely landed.
Safely, in good health, my underwear still clean, the aircraft undamaged. I spent about an hour there with the locals waiting for the white hell to disperse, and after triple-checking all satellites, weather radars, METARs, and all other available information, decided that this was the time to take off again back to Dubová, where I landed successfully after just a short flight.
My, and also your life depends on detailed flight preparation – weather conditions, frequencies, route, NOTAMs, airspaces, simply all information you can get. Moreover, always verify all information from the navigation software with the local AIP.
And it is always better to be overcautious, do not risk unnecessarily, and count with all the alternatives.
It is not embarrassing to divert, or simply say “No, I am not flying today.”, maybe even pay for one extra day at the hotel abroad rather than never come back home again.
This flight helped me to realize my weaknesses, now I know what I, as a pilot, have to work on, so that next time I can enjoy every single phase of the flight from starting the engine until successful disembarking in my destination.