Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anatomy of an accident (Part I) (Repost from May2010)

I thought I'd write about an accident back in April 2006 at Greensburg-Jeannette Regional Airport 15 miles northwest of Latrobe. Even though it happened 4 years ago, I wanted to write about the event and the thought processes that one goes through post-accident.

Six months prior to this accident, I hit an 11-point buck upon landing at Rostraver airport. And no, I didn't hit it mid air. I can't tell you the number of times I got that question.

I digress. Since my airplane was down for repairs and major overhaul (here's a tip: if you're going to hit a deer, do it right before TBO), I was the passenger with John, my significant other. We were taking the Pittsburgh Flying Club Archer over to Greensburg-Jeannette Regional for an open house. There was a pretty hefty crosswind from the west

so either runway would have worked. There was a Cheetah taking off to the north (Runway 2 to those who like to visualize runway orientations).  John chose to use runway 2.  We came downwind, proceeded to the base then on to final. The swirling winds jostled the plane around; nothing unmanageable though.  As we approached the runway, the downdrafts pushed the plane toward the ground. John pulled the plane up in time to come over the numbers.

The winds got less squirrely just as we got over the numbers and we were able to touch down within the first 200 feet of the runway. Since the runway is 2,605 ft. that should be plenty of time to stop the plane; or so we thought. With the winds and a 2% downhill grade, it was going to get interesting.

As we rolled out, the plane started to decelerate, and as we approached the turn-off I noticed John gingerly applying brakes. As we passed the turn off, he was more frantic in his braking and announced "we have no brakes". "What do you mean we have no brakes?" "We have no brakes. Try your side." By this time, we're approaching the end of the runway. I stomped on the brakes on my side and got nothing. No little jerky braking action.... nothing. Nada; zip; zilch. By this time, there was not much to do but hang on and wait for the inevitable.

For those who are not aware of Greensburg-Jeannette Regional, it's basically on top of a hill with drop offs at both ends. I'd liken it to an aircraft carrier, only without water surrounding it. The drop off to the north is a little more steep with a heck of a lot of bumps, bushes and a bank of young trees at the bottom right before you end up in a barn. 

The airplane went off the end, initially wanting to become airborne, and then proceeded down the hill. I must say, it was a pretty rough trip. Since we were on the ground, we must have hit every rock and ditch located on that hillside. Toward the bottom, it was clear that we were going to hit into the bank of trees. There's not a whole lot you can do; you just have to ride it out and hope for the best.

And keep in mind, this all happened in front of about 15 pilots standing on the tarmac awaiting our arrival.
Now you can pretty much read into the scenario; there were going to be a lot of landing critiques.

The airplane finally ended up in the trees; an 8" trunk of a tree caught the wing root and abruptly stopped the momentum. The plane half spun around and came to rest slightly downhill. The items in the back seat, including a small dog that came along for the thrills, slid forward and landed on top of me. While we were assessing things, John yelled "get out, there's fuel coming in!" It turns out when the tree hit the wing root it breached the fuel tank.

I opened up the door and climbed out onto the wing; John gathered up the dog, brought her out onto the wing and tossed her to the ground. She looked back at him as if to say "hey, couldn't you, at least, give me a parachute?" John, then, helped me down off the wing. The plane wound up at the top of a three-foot bank so being on top of the wing, we were much higher off the ground.

Part II to follow..................

No comments: