By LOUISE FLANAGAN
Louise Flanagan took a look at some of the investigators reports on air crashes and incidents finalized this year.'
THEY got stuck in a dead end in the dark, tried to do a three-point turn in reverse and slipped backwards down a 4m embankment.
They were in a Boeing 737.
“Inappropriate decision by the captain to reverse the aircraft at night without external guidance,” summed up the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in its report on the accident. That means nobody was on the ground showing where to turn.
That incident happened more than a year ago, and the investigation report is one of a handful added to the CAA website this year.
The Boeing had flown from OR Tambo International Airport to Hoedspruit Air Force Base on a charter with 97 passengers in January last year. All passengers had disembarked and at 5.40pm the experienced captain, who had 26 512 hours logged, was positioning the aircraft for take-off when the unfortunate three-point turn took place.
Visibility was poor with intermittent rain and the crew switched off the landing lights to avoid blinding an incoming aircraft, said the CAA report. They missed a turn-off to the taxiway and went into a dead end. The control tower told the captain there was no equipment to tow the Boeing out.
“The captain therefore opted to manoeuvre the aircraft out of this position by turning into the last taxiway, which led to military hangers, and then reversing to carry out a 180° turn,” said the report.
But the Boeing rolled backwards off the edge of the taxiway down a 4m embankment.
Nobody was injured and the “substantially” damaged Boeing was towed out the next day.
“Will the captain blame it on the carguard?” commented one post on an aviation website at the time.
Another CAA report details the fate of a Russian-made helicopter which crashed during a fire-fighting operation near Sabie in Mpumalanga in July 2006.
The chopper was lifting water in a Bambi Bucket from a dam and was hovering about 11m above the water when the right-hand engine failed owing to internal engine damage.
Within five seconds the helicopter was in the dam; the pilot managed to jettison the bucket and open the window before hitting the water and the crew escaped through the window. All three on board were injured but discharged from hospital the same day.
This investigation meant retrieving the wreck from a dam and shipping it to Russia.
“The crew did not understand the warning given by the helicopter’s audible warning device, as it was in Russian,” said the CAA report.
Russian investigators told the CAA the engine failed because of “the ingestion of a foreign object during operation”.
In Hekpoort near Krugersdorp, a gyroplane crashed on the landing strip of a game farm because “game standing alongside the runway suddenly started crossing the runway”, said the CAA report.
That accident happened in December 2010. The gyroplane was substantially damaged but the pilot and passenger escaped unscathed.
“No fence around the landing area that can prohibit or restrict animal movement – high risk for aircraft operations,” concluded the CAA.
In August 2007, a Piper PA light aircraft took off from Lanseria and was bound for Rand Airport when the engine failed.
It came down in a garden in Birdhaven, colliding with three trees and an entertainment area. The pilot and passenger were seriously injured.
In April 2008, a gyroplane refuelled at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve in Limpopo, took off, lost power, crashed and caught fire, killing both on board. It had been filled with the wrong fuel.
“Because of a change in the flight schedule, the aircraft fuel tank was filled with RON 93 fuel, which was available in the nature reserve, instead of the required RON 95,” said the CAA report.
The lower octane fuel, along with the high power required at take-off and the temperatures experienced that day contributed to the loss of power during take-off.
Fuel was also blamed in July last year, when a Robinson R44 helicopter crashed on a farm in Limpopo. The pilot refuelled at a game farm then again at Thabazimbi Aerodrome. He took off and 150m above the ground the engine failed. The Robinson crashed, injuring the pilot.
The crash was attributed to contaminated fuel, probably from an unsealed drum.
The July 2001 crash of a Yakovlev-Yak-52 light aircraft at Pietersburg aerodrome was attributed to pilot error.
“The pilot inadvertently retracted the landing gear instead of the flaps after landing,” said the CAA report.
The pilot, the only person on board, was not injured.
The CAA website lists 51 aircraft incidents from January to the end of May this year, resulting in 16 deaths.