If Somebody Made a Mistake that Nearly Killed You

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In 1989 an air show was held at Brown Field in San Diego.

The test pilot Bob Hoover was taking thrill seekers for flights in his Shrike Commander, a small, piston powered, passenger plane. The passengers were known as “Hoover’s Heavers” – more often than not they were sick during the flight.

On this occasion the Heavers got more of a thrill than they paid for.

When the plane had climbed to 300 feet it lost all power and gravity started to pull it relentlessly back to earth. Bob Hoover managed to cut the air speed and safely crash landed the plane uphill onto the side of a ravine. The plane was severely damaged, but he and his two passengers walked away.

What caused the power failure?

This was the question spinning in Bob Hoover’s mind as he sat on the hillside waiting to be rescued. So he walked back to the plane and smelled the fuel.

Instead of gasoline it was jet fuel. A member of the ground crew had mistaken the piston engined plane for a turboprop and mis-fuelled it.

A simple mistake, as easy as putting petrol in your diesel engine, but rather more dramatic.

Of course their were consequences:

The accident lead to a simple process improvement, the development of the Hoover Nozzle, a filling mechanism that prevents the inadvertent filling of a gasoline powered plane with aviation fuel.

But there was a more remarkable outcome

When he returned to the air field Bob Hoover walked over to the man who had nearly caused his death and, according to the California Fullerton News-Tribune, said:

“There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t made a mistake. But I’m positive you’ll never make this mistake again. That’s why I want to make sure that you’re the only one to refuel my plane tomorrow. I won’t let anyone else on the field touch it.”

Is it an urban myth?

Perhaps the story is a little too good to be true; the source is Bob Hoover’s own autobiography — in my autobiography I will also be a saintly hero — but half truth or not the really interesting questions are…

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