A personal account of an engine failure and out landing
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I have long mulled over if this story is worth telling, after some convincing I have concluded that it could be valuable to someone and therefore this personal account of an engine failure and out landing in April of 2022.
Rewind a week or two before the accident, I was to renew my license at the flight school where I hire and fly. I was to fly this renewal with an instructor that I had not flown with before. Naturally, with it being a renewal, one is apprehensive. This instructor made me comfortable from the moment he strapped in beside me.
With the renewal progressing well, I was waiting for the inevitable "engine failure," the thought had not exited my mind when the instructor selected carb heat and reduced the power setting to idle, with the words "you have an engine failure, where are you going?" With many open fields and altitude at my disposal I selected a field off the nose to the right and started flying in that direction while going through the engine failure items as memorized. On final approach I completed the checklist and selected flaps for the "landing." The instructor then asked, "are you sure you are going to make this field, you look a bit high." I replied with an unsure yes as I gently slipped the aircraft to shed some of the height.
At this point, I understood that the instructor was concerned about the fence looming at the end of the field, when he asked, "would you mind if I take control for a moment?" As I handed over the controls, the instructor started to increase the slip to the extent that I have never slipped that aircraft before. "Now we'll make it comfortably," he remarked. He quipped "if ever you are in a situation and you need to get the plane down, don't be scared to fly it!" Being conservative in my approach to flying, I have never considered flying the aircraft like that. however, I could see that in the right set of conditions in the right hands, this type of manoeuvring was safe and entirely possible. He asked for the go-around to be initiated and asked that we return to base.
As we returned to base, he asked if I wanted to practise forward slipping some more. I naturally agreed and we did several glide approaches with slipping as the main theme. With a stamp and a signature, I was sent on my way to do the required administration at the Civil Aviation Authority.
Little did I know that this renewal and the lessons I learnt on that day, was going to save my life and that of my brother.
Wednesday 27 April 2022, I routed to the field accompanied by my brother, also a pilot. My freshly printed CAA card license in hand. I had booked the aircraft in advance and arrived and concluded all pre-flight activities for our short flight to Witbank, a flight I have done before without any problems.
We started up and taxied out to the holding point where the engine run-up and pre-take-off vital actions were performed and indicated a completely normal set of engine and aircraft parameters. I therefore decided to continue with the flight. Take-off and climb-out occurred as expected without any anomalies as I circled above the airfield to check for the cloud height above the field. With the cloud height exceeding our elected cruise level for Witbank I continued in an easterly direction. Crossing to the north of Bronkhorstspruit Dam. It was going to be a beautiful day for flying!
Crossing the N4, the engine spluttered, surged and died. I was shocked, in a state of disbelief. Me? An engine failure? Why? From this moment forward I am eternally grateful for the lessons I learnt a few weeks prior. With altitude on our side, I attempted a restart. The engine made an awful grinding noise, and I informed my brother that we are going to be landing out. Immediately the training I received kicked in. Field, fault, flap, finalÖ Mayday call. I looked right at the N4 and knew that it was out of play as it was a public holiday and the cars were routing to the Lowveld in their droves.
I looked left and saw another road. This is where we were going. Going through the items by memory went by in a flash. I was genuinely concerned about a left-hand bend in the road I could see in the distance, I did not want to touch down at or in the bend. However, we needed to get down urgently. That is exactly what we did, the training I received a few weeks prior gave me the confidence to slip the aircraft from altitude all the way down to touchdown. Configured for landing, I aimed straight down the tar road and executed one of the nicest landings I have ever done. But we were not done just yet. In an instant my perfect landing was nullified by a road sign, which struck the left-hand wing on the roll out. The aircraft swung violently to the left and left the tar road. The right-hand side wing slid along the gravel and grass as the right-hand side undercarriage gave way.
Both myself and my brother alighted from the aircraft shaken but unharmed. As we stood by the roadside many a passer-by stopped and asked if we were ok. There were concerned aviators from Witbank that flew out to see if we were in one piece too. The CEO of the flight school, where I still hire and fly today, also flew out overhead to see if we were ok.
A farmer came to our rescue with something to drink and eat, while we waited to be recovered by the flight school. I grappled with ruining the aeroplane that I so loved to fly, I grappled with the thought of how the flight school would perceive my flying abilities, I grappled with the thought of leaving two families without their breadwinners, this weighed heavily on my mind in the weeks and months after the accident.
The Civil Aviation Authority had requested that the pieces of the engine that failed be sent away for metallurgical investigation which confirmed that there was nothing that we could have done to avoid the engine failing. It could have happened to anyone else.
Though I feel sad that my favourite aircraft in the flight school fleet is no longer, I am thankful to be here. Yes, everything worked out in our favour, altitude we had in the bank, the road we had to land on and the exceptionally strong construction of the aircraft we were flying.
But one thing that stands out above all the rest - Training. Never underestimate the value of good training and understanding the limits of the aircraft that you are flying. Anything can happen the moment you leave the relative safety of Mother Earth. Best be as well prepared as one can to make the most out of what could have been a very nasty situation.
My thanks go to Dave Naude, Aldo Naude, and the entire team at Legendsky Aviation. Without your attention to detail and personal investment in improving and refining my skills, I would not be here writing this today.
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