The Cessna 172 seemed to lack its usual power on a flight from Reedsburg, Wisconsin, to Kenosha.
The private pilot recalled feeling a couple of bumps during takeoff, but because the nose was high at the time, he had not observed anything unusual.
During the takeoff run on the 4,840-by-75-foot runway, the pilot’s seat had slid backwards, but he had been able to move it back into place and abort the takeoff.
Then he taxied back and took off again, evidently unaware that he had already collided with a runway end identifier light control box.
It was after landing in Kenosha that he discovered why the aircraft seemed to lack power during the flight. “Damage to the airplane included buckling and puncture damage to the lower fuselage, engine cowling, and left horizontal stabilizer, firewall damage, the tip of one propeller was missing and the other propeller tip was damaged, and a section of the exhaust system was crushed,” said a National Transportation Safety Board accident report.
And it turns out there was a bit more to the takeoff scenario than a not-unheard-of unexplained sliding-seat event. The report noted that the pilot “was trying to attach a hand-held GPS unit to his leg with a cable when the seat slid back.” The cable “most likely became attached to the seat adjustment lever and this resulted in the lever being moved, and the seat sliding back.”
As sliding-seat-on-takeoff accidents go, this one is an outlier; more common would be failure of a mechanical component, or the pilot’s failure to adjust and lock seat, belt and shoulder harness as mandated by a high-priority item on many Cessna “before starting engine” checklists.
Keep in mind, however, that even the most conscientious pilot can fall prey to a sliding seat. You adjust your seat, fasten your seatbelt and shoulder harness, then remember some needed item out of reach on the back seat that requires undoing all that careful work.
Do you remember to return to that item on the checklist before moving on?
The 2001 accident recounted here also reminds that multitasking with unrelated activities on takeoff is bad business. Not only does it take your mind off a critical task, but—as the offending cable of the tale demonstrates—can precipitate unintended consequences of a dangerously difficult-to-deal-with variety.