Friday, October 21, 2005

Accident of the Week

Here's a recent accident that, at least on first blush, seems to reinforce the need to ensure that you clean-up the aircraft before "going" during touch 'n goes:
NTSB Identification: MIA06FA007
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, October 16, 2005 in La Belle, FL
Aircraft: Cessna 172P, registration: N99173
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On October 16, 2005, about 1325 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172P, N99173, registered to Christiansen Aviation, Inc., operated by Ari Ben Aviator, experienced an in-flight loss of control during initial climb shortly after takeoff from La Belle Municipal Airport, La Belle, Florida. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no flight plan was filed for the 14 CFR Part 91 instructional flight from St. Lucie County International Airport, Fort Pierce, Florida, to La Belle Municipal Airport. The airplane was substantially damaged and the student pilot, the sole occupant was fatally injured. The flight originated about 1227, from St. Lucie County International Airport.

A witness who was outside at the airport reported seeing the airplane in the traffic pattern and believed he saw the pilot perform more than 1 landing on runway 32. He noted the airplane flew past his position 1 time, and reported the airplane returned. During the second time on the upwind leg for runway 32, while flying at an estimated altitude of 150 feet, the airplane stalled, drifted to the left, and impacted the ground. He drove to the scene and while en route called 911. After arriving on-scene, he noted fuel leaking from under the instrument panel, and he turned off the master switch. In an attempt to rescue the pilot, he cut the seatbelt and shoulder harness. He also reported the engine sounded like a, "normal sounding engine"; he did not hear any sputtering, and reported the engine was running until impact.

Another witness who was flying near the airport in a helicopter equipped with Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), reported seeing the accident airplane on the upwind leg of runway 32; the TCAS display depicted the airplane was flying at his altitude (approximately 350 feet). He looked and saw the airplane; the airplane appeared normal. He diverted his attention momentarily to look for other traffic, then looked back and saw the airplane in a nose-low attitude. The airplane completed 3 to 3.5 turns of a spin before he lost sight of it. He did not hear a distress call, nor did he hear the emergency locator transmitter.

Preliminary examination of the airplane revealed it came to rest with the empennage nearly vertical, south of the south edge of runway 32. The empennage was displaced slightly to the right, and all components necessary to sustain flight remained attached to the airplane. The flaps were found fully extended to the 30-degree position.

If, in fact, the student pilot was attempting to takeoff with 30 degrees of flaps deployed, it's not hard to imagine that he could easily have entered a stall, followed rapidly by a spin. At 150 feet AGL, that's clearly a recipie for tragedy. Furthermore, if he was attempting to look for traffic (the nearby helicopter), his attention may have been diverted which could have contributed to declining airspeed, followed by the stall.

By the way -- and it has no bearing on the cause of the accident -- the plane was being operated by one of those "zero time to professional pilot" organizations, Ari-Ben Aviator, that Sam talked about here.


John said...

A problem that can happen in Cessnas is that one or more of the switches in the flap systcem can go south and the flaps can remain extended after the pilot has commanded them up. If you don't look and verify they have retracted on a touch and go, you're eventually going to be in for a surprise.

This very flap failure has happened to me on several occasions. The most memorable was when a student and I were doing stop-and-goes one night at the Napa County Airport. After the first landing, he began the takeoff roll and I immediately noticed something was odd. He was airborne very quickly and the nose wanted to pitch up like crazy. I looked back and saw the flaps were still down and the flap switch was in the up position.

I had him retrim and fly the 172 around the pattern in slow flight and land. The plan was to taxi to parking and call our mechanic (who was probably in bed). When we arrived at transient parking, we discovered that the flaps had spontaneously retracted sometime after we landed. Had they retracted during the approach, we could have had a big problem on our hands. We returned to Oakland and did a no flaps landing.

I made a mental note that if the flaps ever failed to retract again, I'd make sure the flap switch stayed in the corresponding position until we were on the ground!

IFR Pilot said...

One of the things that I like best about my Skyhawk is the manual flaps. Sure, it took a bit of getting used to having done my private training exclusively in Cessnas with electric flaps. But once I got the hang of it, I was comforted by the fact that, even with a total electrical failure, I'd still be able to fly a normal approach to land with my manual flaps!

Anonymous said...

The factual report of this accident is out, and it turns out the flap system was at fault as is exactly as John described.
The interesting thing is that the instructor had noticed the fault previously, and made no attempt to have it looked at. Looks like this is one 'Zero-to-Hero' operation that isn't quite turning out heroes.