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Summary

Summary

On 25 June 2001, an Embraer Bandeirante on a charter flight from Sydney to Griffith, sustained an in-flight engine fire during cruise. The pilot attempted to extinguish the fire, and believing it to be extinguished, commenced a rapid descent to Young. Fog at Young prevented a landing, and the pilot diverted the aircraft to Cootamundra. Smoke entered the cabin, and the pilot transmitted a MAYDAY. Only the right main landing gear extended when the landing gear was selected down, but the pilot did not get an indication of the landing gear position. Unaware that the right main landing gear had extended, he prepared to make a gear-up landing. The aircraft touched down on the right main wheel and settled onto the left engine nacelle and nose, sustaining abrasion damage as it slid along the runway. The fire in the right engine nacelle was still burning when the aircraft stopped. The occupants egressed uninjured, and bystanders extinguished the fire.

Technical investigation revealed that vibration from the worn armature shaft of the right engine starter generator initiated a fatigue crack in the fuel return line. Fuel leaked from the fractured line during the flight, and was ignited by sparks or frictional heat from the generator after the armature shaft failed.

The pilot reported that he was unable to select the fuel cut-off position with the right fuel condition lever and feather the right propeller. While carrying out the engine fire emergency checklist actions, the pilot did not complete all of the items of the manufacturer's engine fire emergency checklist and the firewall shut-off valve remained open. Fuel continued to flow to the fuel control unit and feed the fire. The investigation was unable to determine if the fire extinguisher bottle discharged effectively. The fire continued to burn and heat conducted through the firewall affected components in the wheel well. Smoke from the heat-damaged components entered the aircraft cabin though gaps between the wing root and fuselage.

Checklists carried on the aircraft did not contain appropriate smoke evacuation procedures and the pilot's attempts to evacuate smoke from the cabin were unsuccessful. Consequently, the uncontained fire in the engine nacelle, and smoke in the cabin, created a potentially life threatening situation and influenced the pilot's decision not to delay the landing while attempting to resolve the apparent failure of the landing gear to extend.

This occurrence demonstrates the need for error-free and complete checklists to be available to pilots during emergency situations. It also demonstrates the need for pilots to be familiar with the systems of the aircraft they operate, and the emergency actions to be taken in the event of abnormal or emergency situations. Regular practice of those procedures is essential if they are to be executed effectively. More thorough training and checking of (charter) pilots, as proposed in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations Part 121B (charter) operations, if adopted, can potentially improve pilot proficiency and knowledge in emergencies, specific to the aircraft type.

As a result of this occurrence the ATSB recommended to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the aircraft manufacturer and the certification authorities that the temperature setting of thermal relief valves on fire bottles, and the temperature setting of fire detectors, be reviewed to avoid inadvertent discharge of fire bottles. The ATSB also recommended that crews be provided with an indication of fire bottle contents.

 
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