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Distraction leads to wheels-up landing

  • Accident highlights the impact a combination of distractions can have on aircraft operations.
Accident site of Cessna 310 aircraft, registered VH-TBE

On 12 December 2014, the pilot of a Cessna 310 (C-310) aircraft, registered VH-TBE (TBE), was completing a charter flight from Oenpelli to Jabiru, Northern Territory. On board were the pilot, two adults and three children.

TBE was one of several aircraft operating multiple flights between the two communities, and this was the fourth and final flight for the pilot that day. Due to the late arrival of a passenger on one of his earlier runs, the pilot had been delayed throughout the morning.

After departing Oenpelli, he made a left turn, and continued climbing to 2,000 ft for the short flight. An agreed local procedure between operators in this area was that flights from Oenpelli to Jabiru operated at 2,000 ft, and flights in the opposite direction at 1,500 ft.

After a distraction source has been recognised, the next priority is to re-establish situation awareness by conducting the following:
Identify: What was I doing?
Ask: Where was I distracted?
Decide/act: What decision or action do I need to take to get back on track?

The pilot reported that the three children on board were excited and a little disruptive, and he had kept a close watch on their activities. Concurrently, the passenger seated in the front seat coughed incessantly through the headset, which distracted him. Once he had the aircraft stable, he reached over and unplugged the passenger’s headset.

After the completion of the top of descent (TOPD) checks, he manoeuvred to join a late downwind for a right circuit onto runway 27 at Jabiru. He commenced the pre-landing checks and reported verbalising “undercarriage down”, but made a decision to leave this particular action until later on final approach. He elected to keep the aircraft speed slightly higher than normal; and as per the company procedures, kept a stable power setting and profile and only made small adjustments when needed at around 300 ft. He was also mindful of a Cessna 210 aircraft close behind TBE.

He then focussed on the passengers, especially the children, and made sure that they all had their seatbelts correctly fastened prior to landing. The children were still highly excited. He normally completed the remaining memory-recall PUFF check on final approach, but on this occasion he did not.

The pilot flared the aircraft in preparation for landing. He became aware that the undercarriage remained retracted when TBE touched down on the runway centreline and he heard the propellers contacting the ground.

Mindful there was an aircraft in the circuit behind him, he used the remaining rudder effectiveness to move the aircraft slightly to the left of the runway. When the aircraft came to a stop, he checked on the welfare of his passengers and opened the door for them to exit, directing them to assemble in a safe area. After completing shutting down, he also exited the aircraft. There were no injuries to either the pilot or passengers; however, the aircraft was substantially damaged.

Safety message

This incident highlights the impact a combination of distractions can have on aircraft operations.

Research conducted by the ATSB found that distractions were a normal part of everyday flying, and generally pilots respond to them fairly and efficiently. It also revealed that 13 per cent of accidents and incidents associated with pilot distraction between January 1997 and September 2004 occurred during the approach phase of flight.

The Flight Safety Foundation suggests that after a distraction source has been recognised, the next priority is to re-establish situation awareness by conducting the following:

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

Read the full ATSB investigation report AO-2014-188

Further reading is available at:

 
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Last update 05 May 2015