Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Piper PA-31T Cheyenne II, Cal-Ore Life Flight LLC, N28CA: Incident occurred February 02, 2016 at Jack McNamara Field Airport (KCEC), Crescent City, Del Norte County, California


FAA Flight Standards District Office:  FAA Oakland FSDO-27


Date:  02-FEB-16
Time:  00:50:00Z
Regis#:  N28CA
Aircraft Make:  PIPER
Aircraft Model:  PA31T
Event Type:  Incident
Highest Injury:  None
Damage:  Unknown
Flight Phase:  LANDING (LDG)
State:  California

A single failed bolt nearly spelled disaster Tuesday for three people on a Cal-Ore plane, which managed a successful emergency landing at Jack McNamara Field in spite of malfunctioning gear. Lead pilot Dan Brattain as well as a business partner and a co-pilot in training were returning to the Crescent City airport from a meeting in Roseburg, Oregon around 3 p.m. when landing gear on the nose of the 7-passenger Piper Cheyenne failed to deploy.

“That was my first time doing a landing like that,” said Brattain, who founded Cal-Ore Life Flight more than 20 years ago. “That was the first and hopefully the last.”

Brattain said he contacted airport personnel as soon as his control panel light indicated a problem. Responders from Crescent City Fire, California Highway Patrol, and the Del Norte Sheriff’s Office were on scene within minutes, ready to give on-the-ground assistance.

The scene was crowded and slightly chaotic while staff and emergency crews communicated with Brattain and his co-pilot, trying to determine the best course of action.

“I had a lot of help,” said Brattain. “I had a good young co-pilot who was great and gave good assistance. I also had a lot of people on the ground offering lots of good, free advice. They had some good advice.”

There was talk of attempting a landing on the faulty equipment at a different airport, but they soon decided Crescent City was the best place — weather was clear, the runway was long, and the pilots still had sufficient control to land with minimal damage to the vessel.

Before that, Brattain and his company flew around for about an hour, burning off some fuel and minimizing additional hazard of carrying excess flammable material in case something went wrong.

They also “made several attempts at maneuvers in the air,” added Brattain, hoping to pop the landing gear down into its correct position. No luck there.

Shortly before 4 p.m., with responders back in position on the ground, Brattain executed a technique he knew from training, on-the-spot counsel, and almost 13,000 flying hours of experience — turn off electrical equipment, shut the engine down, and glide with the nose in the air as long as you can.

Eventually, approaching the ground, you slow down and prepare to change formation, he said.

“As the airspeed dissipates and you can’t hold the nose off anymore, it just falls forward,” said Brattain. Then you put the gears in place and brace for impact. It happens quickly.

Ambulance, fire, police and airport vehicles were posted around the runway and gawkers peered through the fence after following the speeding response vehicles to the scene. The plane seemed to crunch and scrape for no more than a hundred yards. Bystanders cooed.

Airport Director Matthew Leitner said the plane’s nose sustained minimal damage to its fiberglass surface during the rudder-steered landing, and none of the three passengers were injured.

“It turned out great,” said Brattain. “I just hope we don’t have to do it again.” Since the landing, mechanics have examined the plane and believe it was an obscure sheared bolt, affecting a part called the actuator, that in turn kept the nose gear from lowering properly.

All seven of Cal-Ore’s aircraft in Crescent City are checked every Monday in accordance with FAA regulations, said Brattain, and inspected again before every flight.

The faulty bolt was likely in a discrete, easily overlooked corner of the plane’s frontal apparatus. Brattain said he’s spoken to many people since yesterday afternoon and hasn’t heard from anybody else experiencing a similar problem.

“Of all the things that could have happened, this would be on the lower scale, I believe,” added Brattain. Cal-Ore’s full fleet is undergoing a thorough inspection post-incident. In more than two decades that Cal-Ore has provided med-vac flights throughout the region, Brattain has only known of one other gear malfunction event, in 2002, and nobody was injured then either.

“Again, aircraft are pieces of equipment. Things happen out there, but these are not things that happen every day,” he said. “The main thing, for a pilot in that kind of situation, is just to relax and take things as they come. We weren’t in a hurry.”

A pilot made a textbook emergency landing this afternoon at the Del Norte County Airport, easing the Piper Cheyenne aircraft to a stop without benefit of the nose gear, which had failed during the flight.

The pilot, who has not yet been identified, radioed the airport after 3 p.m. to report the malfunction on the plane, which belongs to Cal-Ore Life Flight, Airport Director Matthew Leitner tells the Outpost. Airport personnel responded along with the Crescent City Fire Department, the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol. All were standing by when the plane touched down.

The pilot and two passengers were unharmed in the landing. “Everything turned out really well,” Leitner said.

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