Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight
Too narrow a focus
"Use all available cockpit resources." Pilots are taught this mantra from the very beginning of their flight training, but it's especially important during an in-flight emergency.
On April 28, 2004, on a cross-country flight from Telluride to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, the pilot of a twin-engine Beech Travel Air experienced electrical system problems and diverted to Garfield County Regional Airport in Rifle, Colorado, because of gusty wind conditions reported at Glenwood Springs.
After diverting to Garfield County, the airplane's electrical system became erratic, including the illumination of all warning lights on the EGT and the indication of engine temperatures of more than 1,650 degrees. The electrical system then failed. When the pilot tried to lower the flaps and landing gear, the flaps extended partially, but the gear did not. The pilot then proceeded to use the manual gear extension and cranked the landing gear about halfway down. Because of the gusty wind conditions and turbulence, the pilot asked the passenger to finish extending the gear while he focused on flying the airplane.
The pilot was concerned about what he thought was an "extreme danger" of an engine fire and did not have anyone on the ground verify that the gear was extended; he only checked that the gear crank had quit turning.
While landing on Runway 26 at Garfield County, the pilot felt both propellers strike the runway. He retarded the throttles, and the airplane settled onto the runway and slid 1,000 feet before stopping in the grass. After the gear-up landing, the pilot realized that the passenger had retracted the gear instead of extending it.
The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to verify the manual extension of the landing gear by the passenger, resulting in an inadvertent gear-up landing.
The pilot did the right thing by asking the passenger for help during this emergency. Unfortunately, he forgot that as pilot in command, it was his responsibility to verify that the gear was down and locked. Because the pilot was fixated on the threat of fire, he lost track of the basics.
For more information about emergencies and distraction, see "Safety Pilot: Driven to Distraction," from the September 2001 AOPA Pilot.
Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.
By Kristen Hummel