On 7 January 2013 at 0900 Eastern Daylight-saving Time a Piper PA28, registered VH-JXR, departed Mangalore Airport, Victoria on a navigation training exercise. The student pilot was the only person on board.
An instructor on the ground watched the aircraft depart and observed an object trailing behind the aircraft following the takeoff. During a low-level pass, the right main wheel and inner cylinder of the oleo assembly were observed to have detached from the upper cylinder and to be hanging off the brake line. After a second low level pass, it was observed that the wheel had completely detached.
The instructor advised the student to hold over the airfield to burn off fuel and allow time for a plan to be formulated. After several hours and with emergency services in attendance the student was instructed to make a normal approach to runway 36. The aircraft touched down on the runway and slid off to the side coming to rest on the grass. The student was uninjured; however, the aircraft was substantially damaged.
The examination of the right landing gear assembly revealed that the lower torque link attachment bolt had fractured allowing the inner cylinder to become detached from the torque link and to fall from the outer cylinder when the aircraft became airborne. The examination indicated that the failure of the bolt was due to single-point bending fatigue due to asymmetrical loading i.e. bending from one side.
Since this incident, the aircraft operator has undertaken to replace all torque link attachment bolts during the next scheduled maintenance on any Piper PA-28 aircraft they operate. The operator also advised that they will be treating all landings where a sideways load may have occurred with caution.