Friday, November 04, 2005


"Check Gear Down!" (Or Should That Be "Check Gear-Up"?)

Flying is "managed risk", and mistakes are made, plain and simple. Sometimes the mistake can be rectified easily, as in the case of a "blown" tank on a de Havilland Otter or Beaver during cruise. Switch tanks, retard the throttle, wait for the engine to "catch", and advance the throttle. Very little altitude is lost, although if this happens during take-off or landing, the outcome could be quite different. The passengers sometimes suffer "cardiac arrest" when the engine quits, but the sound of the engine catching usually re-starts their hearts. No one wants to miss a fishing trip. Other mistakes lead to more "catastrophic" results.

Once a pilot starts flying retractable-gear airplanes, he has to be come more aware of how the gear is configured (i.e.- up, or down). On a wheeled-aircraft, the mistake is made when the pilot forgets to select the gear "down" before landing. When this happens, the engines stop rather quickly, the props look like "Jai Alai" rackets, and sparks or flying gravel ensue.

Flying in the bush environment has it's own numerous challenges, and can be extremely enjoyable, and at other times, downright "nasty". When flying on straight floats, one flies from water-body, to water-body. Here is the twist. Make a float-plane "amphibious", by adding wheel-gear to the floats. This makes the aircraft quite versatile, but the odds of a mistake leading to an accident just increased.

CF-OEW is a de Havilland Canada "Turbo Beaver", S/N 1682TB50, operated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on amphibious floats. This past summer it was operating in the geographic region north of Wawa, on July 12. At about 6 PM, a landing was being attempted on Esnagi Lake. A mistake was made, what we in the industry call a "brain fart", and a near-tragedy ensued. Nobody was injured, which is a testament to the durability of de Havilland Canada products, though the Beaver suffered numerous injuries. As you view the photos, it becomes quite evident what happened.

CF-OEW as seen from the air after the accident. Posted by Picasa

Major damage. Posted by Picasa

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In this photo, it becomes apparent what happened. Posted by Picasa

The aircraft, disassembled, and ready to be "choppered" out. It will be rebuilt, and will fly once more. Posted by Picasa

So there you have it. A mistake was made, and an accident was the final outcome. People call it "pilot error", which makes my blood boil. I consider it "human error", as anyone could make the same mistake. Has anyone ever locked their keys in the car, or left a "burner" on, on the stove-top? Both those mistakes could also end up catastrophic. Anyways, I remember years ago my friend Jim Gulay, former owner of Gulair Service and Gunisao Lake Lodge, once told me jokingly, although with a hint of truth in some cases; "There are 2 types of retractable-gear pilots: Those 'who have' landed gear-up, and those 'who will'." In this case, it was "gear-down".

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