Hypoxia: What’s Your 10-Point Altitude?

Written by Steve Ells
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I had taken off early from South Florida and had flown all day long between 8,500 and 10,500 feet MSL. I touched down briefly at KAEX in Alexandria, La. for lunch and fuel, then climbed back to my cruising altitude.

I was headed for Mineral Wells, Texas for an S-TEC autopilot tune-up, but decided to land at Waco, Texas (KACT) instead. It was the end of a long day and low ceilings were cramping my comfort zone.

I punched in the identifier for Waco and followed the GPS guidance, but didn’t see any runways. I felt flummoxed and frustrated. Waco is a big airport—I couldn’t grasp why I couldn’t see the runways. I again punched “ACT” into the GPS and hit enter. Still no airport in sight even though the GPS indicated I was directly above it.

Then I spotted the VOR antenna and everything fell into place. My thinking had—unbeknownst to me—become so foggy I had neglected to enter “K” before the three-letter identifier.

I corrected the entry, found the runways, got a landing clearance and safely landed. I slept long and well that night. After reviewing the flight, I concluded that I was just tired and that any pilot who had just flown for seven hours and covered over 1,000 nm in one day would have made the same mistakes.

I was wrong. I was hypoxic.


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