Every pilot knows the importance of checking notams before every flight. Yet some aviators, even highly experienced airline transport pilots, sometimes fail to familiarize themselves with all available flight information. When that information includes a runway closure, the results can turn your world—and your aircraft—upside down.
On April 15, 2007, a 27,500-hour, ATP-certificated pilot attempted to land a Cessna 182 on a closed turf runway in Marietta, Okla. The subsequent noseover substantially damaged the aircraft and injured two passengers.
The pilot and his three passengers were flying to McGehee Catfish Restaurant Airport (T40) for a Sunday meal. Prior to departure, the pilot checked the weather and airport information on an aviation-oriented commercial Web site. According to his NTSB statement, the pilot tried but was unable to open the notam section of the site. He did not check any other sources for notams.
T40 has a turf runway 2,450 feet long by 55 feet wide. The pilot reported that when he lined up for the straight-in approach and landing on Runway 35, he noticed the northern half of the runway appeared to have been graded. What he failed to notice was the large white X on the approach/south end of the runway.
Weather conditions at the time were ideal—winds calm, skies clear, temperature 20 degrees Celsius, and altimeter 30.13 inches of mercury. The touchdown and landing roll proceeded normally for the first 500 to 600 feet down the grass portion of the runway. When the aircraft entered the graded area, it reportedly bounced slightly, slowed, and then “flipped over on its top.”
The pilot and passengers were able to exit the airplane without assistance, although two passengers received minor injuries during the accident sequence. The aircraft sustained structural damage to the nose landing gear, fuselage, and wings. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident to be the airplane noseover due to the pilot’s failure to obtain current notam information on the closed airport. A contributing factor was the unsuitable terrain.
According to FAR 91.103, a “pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” This information includes runway status at the destination airport. Had the pilot called flight service or consulted a similar source of notams prior to departure, he would have learned that Runway 17/35 at T40 had been closed approximately one month prior to the accident.
The pilot and his passengers were fortunate to escape the crash without serious harm. In this case, a damaged aircraft and damaged pride were the major consequences of landing on a closed runway—but the outcome could have been much worse.
Flying experience—even 27,000+ hours of it—is no substitute for having critical flight-related information in hand. Always check notams before every flight.