Wednesday 20 February 2019

Unmanned plane destroyed after moving across airfield and smashing into fence, as commander says he was in 'a hurry'

The aircraft after it crashed
The aircraft after it crashed
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

A private aircraft was completely destroyed when it travelled for 70 metres unmanned and crashed into an electric fence before bursting into flames, according to a new report.

The incident happened at around 10.15am on July 5 last after the experienced pilot (54) attempted to hand-start the 1958 Coopavia Piel without chocking the wheels to prevent them from moving.

Luckily there was nobody on board the aircraft at the time when the incident happened at Mullinahone Airfield in Co Tipperary.

A report about a probe into the incident was released today by the Air Accident Investigation Unit.

Investigator-in-Charge Howard Hughes explained that: "The Pilot had intended performing a flight to Sligo airport. He brought the aircraft out of his hangar to hand-start the engine by swinging the propeller.

"He set the throttle to ‘a higher than the usual setting’, and set the ignition switch to ‘ON’.

"There was no one aboard the aircraft, and the aircraft wheels had not been chocked.

"When the Pilot swung the propeller the engine started and the aircraft commenced moving across the airfield, where it impacted a boundary hedge and overturned."

Read More: Plane flipped upside down in emergency landing after weather forced student pilot to divert

They noted that the aircraft's brakes were not set and the wheels were not chocked so when the engine started it began to move forward.

The report said: "The aircraft travelled approximately 70 metres east across the airfield and impacted a ditch and hedge.

"On impact with the ditch, the aircraft overturned and came to rest inverted on an electric fence on the other side of the hedge.

"The propeller impacted the ground and the engine stopped.

"The Pilot stated that fuel began leaking from the aircraft, and that the electric fence may have acted as a source of ignition for the fuel spillage. The fuel ignited and the aircraft was destroyed."

The pilot, who has 405 hours of flying experience, followed the aircraft on foot, while remaining a safe distance behind.

He wasn't injured and submitted a detailed description of the incident to the AAIU, as well as his assessment of the cause of the incident.

The report said: "He stated that on the day of the accident he was in somewhat of a hurry to get airborne; he had not chocked the aircraft and set the throttle ‘a little too high’, all of which he stated, contributed to the accident."

The AAIU noted that similar accidents have occurred in the past, including one that was detailed in a Fatal Accident Report by the Australian Air Transport Safety Board.

That report said that: "Hand swinging an aircraft propeller is recognised across the aviation industry as a hazardous procedure.

"Although hand swinging is permitted under the civil aviation regulations, it should only be undertaken when no other alternatives exist to start the aircraft engine and all necessary precautions have been taken to mitigate the hazards."

Other advice issued by the AAIU includes that the aircraft should be adequately tied down, breaks are set and that the fuel system and engine controls are set for a normal start.

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