By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
They had been in the air about three hours when Rivera-Worley asked Taylor how much longer it would be. He told her the airport was less than 30 minutes away. Then Rivera-Worley saw Taylor tap on the blue gauge and heard him say he was having an instrument failure.
It is likely that Taylor didn't realize the artificial horizon had stopped working until he had already used false readings to "correct" the airplane. By the time he realized something wasn't right, he probably was already losing control. A New Orleans-area air traffic controller told Taylor he was off course and going to miss the airport. Taylor was clearly confused.
"Ma'am, I have a full failure at this time, and I'm climbing straight up...I hope," Taylor told the controller. "Give me a second, uh, I'm heading southbound. Give me a second to think."
He tells the controller his other instruments, those powered electrically, are out, too, and that he seems to be at 2,000 feet and in a left turn. A moment later he tells the controller he doesn't know if he's turning or not. At this point it is only known for certain that Taylor had lost two instruments and had become disoriented. Taylor probably did not believe the readings he was seeing on working instruments because he was experiencing spatial disorientation or vertigo. Because of centrifugal force, a hard bank (which would push you down in your seat) can feel to a disoriented pilot like a climb.
Although the functioning altimeter would have shown the airplane descending, Taylor, like dozens of other pilots in his predicament, might not have trusted it. Shortly after Taylor reported instrument trouble, another violent descent began.
"He started having difficulty maintaining control," Rivera-Worley says, her voice getting quiet. "It started with the sensation that you were just dropping, just dropping and the sensation that he was recovering, banking real hard...It felt like he was climbing when we were banking...He was trying to get above the clouds...but we were probably going down.
"We knew that he had difficulty controlling the plane. We just knew forever. We just sat there, one in disbelief, two in fear and in horror of what was happening and was apparently going to happen and knowing that we were likely to die."
About three minutes after hearing about Taylor's instrument failure, the air traffic controller asks another pilot flying in the vicinity about the cloud ceiling. Then the controller tells Taylor, "Cherokee One Lima Lima, I'm showing you right now east, well, you're going a, hey...and Cherokee One Lima Lima, I show you going around in circles. Sir. I can't get any definite heading on you. Um, can you give me any idea which way you are going?"
"I'm crashing," Taylor replied. "Oh my God."
"I never saw lights again," Rivera-Worley says. "It was a real, real sensation of falling out of the sky and going really fast, and Bryan didn't have control of the plane and Bryan saying I'm going to crash. There's not much hope left, and I'm sitting there going I cannot believe this is happening."
With her head against John Scott's back and with her outstretched arm she held onto her living daughter for the last time while reciting the Lord's Prayer aloud. She remembers getting about halfway through the prayer. She doesn't remember the airplane hitting the lake or the rush of cold water against her body. The impact tore the roof of the airplane down the middle between the cockpit and back seats. The plane came to rest upside down on the lake bottom in 15 to 20 feet of murky water.
"When I came to, and I was out a second, when I came to I just had this rush of adrenaline, this flight, fight or flight rush. Gotta get out. Gotta get some air. I just start pushing up, just pushing up...My right foot was stuck under Bryan's seat. I just yanked it and yanked it until I got my foot out and started swimming up.
"I got to the surface and I thought what the hell happened? My God, this is water. I thought we would crash into land. I started screaming." In the pitch-black of the lake's surface, in bare feet and suffering an injured ankle, Rivera-Worley was alone. She began treading water.
When Bryan Scott Taylor was trained to fly in blind conditions using instruments, he wore a visor that effectively blocked his view out of the airplane's windows while an instructor looked on. The visor forced Taylor to learn to judge the airplane's position relative to the ground using the artificial horizon, the directional gyroscope and the other four instruments in the cockpit instead of with his inner ear and natural instincts. Pilots are well aware that when you cannot see the ground or sky, it is easy to become disoriented and fly straight into a stall or the ground.
Because a vacuum pump failure is not uncommon, as part of Taylor's test to become an instrument-rated pilot, a tester typically would have covered the vacuum pump-operated artificial horizon and the directional gyro with a piece of paper. That would have forced Taylor to figure out his position using what's known as a "partial panel" of the four remaining instruments. The instruments that probably would be working include the turn coordinator, air-speed indicator, altimeter and vertical-speed indicator.