Pilot flew plane ‘after crashing it nose-down into a field’

The pilot took off again in the aircraft despite ‘substantial damage’, investigation finds

The 1940-built Piper aircraft

The 1940-built Piper aircraft

 

A pilot who crashed a light aircraft nose-down into a field in Co Monaghan subsequently flew the plane back to the west coast in spite of “substantial damage”, an investigation has found.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) says the pilot’s decision to take off again without any formal inspection was “not prudent” and could have resulted in a serious incident.

The 45-year-old pilot also failed to report the incident to the AAIU immediately after it occurred on September 13th, 2016, in spite of a statutory requirement to do so.

The pilot told the AAIU that he did not immediately report the crash as he considered the damage not to be structural.

After a “more detailed damage inspection and a discussion with other pilots”, he reported the occurrence to the AAIU some 17 days later. It appointed inspector John Owens to investigate the incident.

The report describes how the pilot, who had 260 flying hours, was travelling alone from Co Galway to Co Monaghan in good weather conditions.

The Piper J-5A aircraft he was flying was a high-wing, strut-braced monoplane, manufactured in 1940 and fitted with a Rolls-Royce Continental O-200A engine.

On landing at a field near Castleblaney, the tail-wheel aircraft touched down hard and bounced. The pilot applied engine power “to avoid a stall” and the aircraft touched down again approximately 45m farther on, the report states.

“This was followed by a series of bounces and a loss of directional control, resulting in the right-hand wingtip making contact with the ground. The aircraft came to rest in a nose-down position,” it says. The pilot, flying alone, was uninjured.

The pilot had never landed at this field before, but had checked it on Google Maps and the landowner was aware he would be landing.

The investigator noted there were trees and farm buildings at the field’s southeastern side, and it was therefore “not suitable for an aircraft landing”.

Cockpit damage

After the crash, the pilot noted that the right-hand wingtip had been damaged and a bar in the cockpit was “bulging” and “bent”. The pilot believed the propeller had not been damaged, and some 20 minutes later he took off and flew back to Co Galway.

Two AAIU inspectors found that the aircraft sustained substantial damage, which included possible shock loading of the engine, in the incident.

In its review, the AAIU, which does not apportion blame in its reports, quotes a behaviour known as “expectation bias” which was observed in a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report of 2017.

This is where an individual is expecting one situation, and is “less likely to notice cues indicating the situation is not quite what it seems”.

Citing this behaviour, the AAIU notes that in this case the “prudent course of action on viewing the field on the downwind leg would have been to abort the decision to land there, rather than pressing on with the original plan”.

The AAIU said that “considering the damage to the aircraft and the now-known unsuitability of the site, which had limited options for a rejected take-off should the need have arisen”, the pilot’s decision to take off again “ was not prudent and had the potential to result in a further, and possibly more serious, accident”.