Overcoming the Phenomenon of Get-There-Itis


Get-there-itis is an aviation term that explains when the pilot has the determination to reach a destination, combined with hazardous weather. This phenomenon claims the lives of dozens of pilots and their passengers yearly according to the American Owners and Pilots Association. The most famous of these incidents occurred in 1999 when John F. Kennedy's son John F. Kennedy Jr. plane crashed in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Martha's Vineyard Massachusetts. Kennedy only held the certification to fly under "visual flight rules" or VFR, not "instrument flight rules" or IFR that is required under adverse weather conditions. The danger came when flight conditions degraded, and Kennedy continued the flight exceeding his ability to fly the aircraft.


The NTSB official investigation concluded that Kennedy fell victim to spatial disorientation while descending over water at night and consequently lost control of the aircraft. However, the full story of how the crash happened before departing. Kennedy had a fractured ankle that he was recovering from diminishing his ability of a pilot. The party took off later than expected putting them into night time hours. Kennedy did not call in for a weather briefing or file a flight plan before departing. He was under psychological distress due to marriage and finances. Any of these single issues possibly was not the sole cause but started stacking the deck against him which eventually caused the disorientation and the crash.


As I prepared this training item I thought back to times that I have also fell victim to the "get-there-itis". Driving in winter storm conditions because our plans had us arriving at a certain time. Or traveling late into the night because I just wanted to get home. I can think of several backpacking expeditions when preparation, plan, and weather conditions did not equal success. Or staying out on the lake fishing when heading back would have been best. Yet due to the phenomenon of "get-there-itis" we pushed on. Ironically, the most common symptom of "get-there-itis" is not realizing you have it. So what are some ways to prevent this from happening?

To mitigate get-there-itis, first you can ensure you are prepared in your travels with emergency supplies, redundancy of essential gear, and effective communication devices to call for help. Once you realize you are in too deep this preparation ahead of time can mean the difference in survival. Second, decide in advance your personal safety minimums. Decide before the trip is scheduled what are your minimums? Some could be based on a weather forecast, driving x hours in a day, or driving past a certain time at night. Third, have a well established plan of travel and checkpoints. This might not have to be a formal document, but if you are in backcountry this is good to have formalized. Most importantly, identify points in travel to evaluate if conditions are still right for continuing. You may have a point on the map hiking to the ridge you can plan to evaluate and see if continuing is safe and appropriate. Having these built in checkpoints help trigger the brain to evaluate. Build into your plan contingencies, play the "what if" game, have places to stay and rest, or hunker down if crossing the ridge is not safe. Lastly, In your plans if you are traveling unknown area's ask for advice from the locals. Before hitting the trail head ask around town on advice, or if the weather report on the road is questionable, call a local gas station in the area. They will have very good information on what it is like and what to expect. The locals have valuable institutional knowledge of the area.

When you do embark, have an agreement with your travel partners that anyone in the travel party can ask the question "are we safe?" Try not rely on the judgment of one. Each person should have the ability to ask without consequence is it appropriate to continue. If you are traveling alone, be vigilant in asking yourself the question "Is it safe to proceed". Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and the changing conditions, once you are aware of the changing conditions have the mindset that failure, turning back, or changing your plans is an acceptable option to preserve your safety or the groups safety.


In conclusion, I hope this training item plants the seed to avoid the pitfalls of "get-there-itis" in planning your next adventure. Remember set your personal safety minimums and then never deviate from that standard.


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