3rd November 2013

Islander makes and emergency landing

G-CIAS, a Britten Norman Islander aircraft used for search and rescue operations, was out in poor weather just after half past six at night. With cloud at 1000ft, and visibility down to 3km in places, the pilot and four companions also tackled gusts of 41 knots – and turbulence. Wearing lifejackets and immersion suits, they nonetheless got airborne and went in search of two fishermen lost in a dingy close to Les Ecrehous.

Awful conditions

According to an official report published by the Air Accident Investigation Branch, “When interviewed, [the pilot] described the conditions as being “awful” and “ghastly”, with turbulence from the cliffs contributing to occasional activation of the stall warner, even though the speed was “probably 100 plus knots”. At 900 ft, the aircraft was “in the bottom” of the cloud, which was unhelpful for the observers, so the pilot descended the aircraft to cruise at 500 or 600 ft, flying by reference to the artificial horizon, and making constant control inputs to maintain straight and level flight. He stated that, although he would normally have begun checking fuel flow, mixture settings, etc, shortly after establishing in the cruise, he found that the conditions required him to devote his full attention to flying the aircraft.”

These challenging conditions may well have contributed to what happened next.

“The pilot noticed a change in an engine note. He immediately “reached down to put the hot air on” which made little difference; the observer recalled that the pilot checked that the mixtures were fully rich at this time. The right-hand engine rpm then began surging. The pilot made a quick check of the engine instruments, before applying full throttle on both engines, setting both propellers to maximum rpm and beginning a climb. The observer noticed that the fuel pressure gauge for the right-hand engine was “going up and down” but did not mention this to the pilot; the pilot did not see the gauge indication fluctuating.”

MAYDAY signal

Something was wrong. The pilot turned around and headed towards Jersey Airport, while sending a MAYDAY just before the right-hand engine stopped. A few moments later, the left engine followed suit. The plane was now gliding, with very little to be seen outside the windows to guide the pilot back to the runway.

“The pilot glimpsed something green in front of the aircraft, and flared for landing. The aircraft touched down and decelerated, sliding downhill and passing through a hedge. With the aircraft now sliding somewhat sideways, it came to a halt when its nose lodged against a tree, with significant airframe damage.”

They were down, but the plane was in a sorry state.

The subsequent investigation revealed that the plane had been configured on a previous flight to draw fuel from the tip tanks on the ends of the wings rather than the main tanks. Being much smaller than the main tanks, these had run dry during the search and rescue flight, causing the engines to stop and the plane to have to make an emergency landing. Fortunately, nobody was injured or killed.


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