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Distraction leads to wheels-up landing

Wheels-up landing of a Beech 95-B55

A wheels-up landing of a Beech 95-B55 is an important reminder that, when faced with an unexpected equipment malfunction, the most important priority should be to fly the aircraft.

On 20 October 2013, the pilot was preparing for a flight from St Helens Airport, Tasmania. He reported that he closed the aircraft door and noted a distinctive click, indicating that the door was secure. He then completed the taxi and pre-take-off checks and noted that everything was operating normally.

The pilot commenced the take-off and as the aircraft became airborne at about 60 ft above ground level, the door opened. Documents blew out of the door and around the cockpit. The pilot continued the climb to 1,000 ft in preparation to return for landing. He could not recall retracting the landing gear after take-off.

The ATSB has identified 325 occurrences between 1997 and 2004 that involved distractions.

When on the downwind leg of the circuit, the pilot tried to close the door but could not reach it. On turning onto base leg the pilot selected 10 degrees flap and continued the approach. On final, he selected full flap and reduced the throttle setting to idle for landing. As he touched down, the pilot realised the landing gear was retracted. The aircraft slid along the runway and came to rest 600 m from the runway end. It was substantially damaged. The pilot recalled hearing a horn activate during the landing but was unable to distinguish whether it was a stall warning or the landing gear warning horn.  

The pilot commented that he normally lowered the landing gear on the downwind leg [or on downwind], but omitted to do so on this occasion. He had never heard the landing gear warning before and was not aware what it sounded like. He normally used memorised checks but resolved that, in future, he would use written checks. An engineering inspection found the door appeared to be twisted and not sitting flush, though it was lockable. About 9 years earlier the door had opened on take-off but had since been repaired by engineers.

The ATSB has identified 325 occurrences between 1997 and 2004 that involved distractions. The source of distraction for the majority (where a source could be established) related to equipment problems, including five involving doors opening. The Flight Safety Foundation recommends that, after a distraction source has been identified, the next priority should be to re-establish situational awareness by conducting the following:

  • Identify: What was I doing?
  • Ask: Where was I distracted?
  • Decide/act: What decision or action shall I take to get back on track?

The report has links to publications containing further information on pilot distraction.

Read the ATSB investigation report AO-2013-191


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Last update 05 June 2014