Aircraft avoidance at the West Towers

Please tell what happened and how it might have been avoided. Names should be ommitted. This forum should help others learn from mistakes that caused or nearly caused a mishap.
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Aircraft avoidance at the West Towers

Post by BudRob » Wed Sep 13, 2017 5:45 pm

It's never fun to spot a large aircraft coming straight at you, even when you spot it from very far off. That happened to me yesterday, shortly after 4 pm at West Towers.

I got to West Towers at about 4500'. I found no immediate lift and was about to make a wide-searching left turn. I knew I was in MiG alley, so I took a hard look to the north before starting my turn. I didn't see anything at first but looked one more time as I began my searching turn. This time I saw a silver glint way off in the distance. I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't moving so I figured it might be headed directly toward me. So instead of making a very slow turn, I made a hard and steep banked turn so that I would be visible to this aircraft and also lose some altitude. Once I completed my turn and faced north again, I could see that this was a Southwest 737 closing fast, and it was beginning a slow turn to the west, presumably to miss me. This realization gave me a direction to run so I flew east as fast as I could, trying to lose altitude at the same time.
I am estimating that it was somewhere between 30-45 seconds from the time I spotted the jet and when it passed me. I was down to 4000' and east of the West Towers, and I guessed its altitude to be around 4800', just west of the West Towers. This separation provided enough distance that I don't think either of us was too worried, but it could have been different if I hadn’t spotted the aircraft as far off as I did.

I was a bit surprised at how fast that 737 got to me from the time I spotted it as a silver glint in the distance but I suppose I shouldn't have been. It is yet another lesson in keeping your eyes trained to the north on every turn made in that area above 4000'. If you spot a jet coming at you and can identify it from first glance, it may already be too late.

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