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26 June 2015

Hungarian Air Force: Three aircraft down in past six weeks

You may have heard about the second crash first, when this video of a last-minute ejection started making the rounds:

The video was filmed at Hungarian Air Base Kecskemét, one of three Air Force bases in Hungary. Kecskemét Air Base is in Bács-Kiskun county and has a concrete runway (12/30) which is 2,499×60 metres (8,199×197 feet). It’s most well-known for the Kecskemét Air Show which, in 2008, was the largest air show in Europe.

The pilot departed Kecskemét in a Saab JAS 39 Gripen to fly a training sortie but shortly after take-off, he discovered that the nose gear was no longer responding. He repeatedly attempted to recycle the landing gear but, unable to deal with the situation in the air, he opted for a belly landing. He lost control of the aircraft as he touched down. When it started to slew off the runway, he ejected.

As you can see in the video, the ejection seat failed to separate from his chute, which added an additional 176 pounds and caused an extremely heavy touchdown. The pilot suffered a vertebral fracture when he impacted the ground but was reported as in stable condition the same day.

He may have had this accident in mind, when a prototype Gripen crashed and flipped over. Amazingly, the pilot in that crash got away with minor injuries and a broken elbow:

The Hungarian Defence Minister lashed out over the incident claiming that the government has “wasted the money necessary for the purchase of fuel for combat aircraft, spending it on all kinds of festivities and celebrations.” He said that the lack of fuel meant that pilots weren’t spending enough time in the air.

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a Swedish single-engine fighter aircraft. There are five Air Forces which operate Saab Gripens: Swedish, Hungarian, South African, Czech and Thai.

This is the second Gripen crash in less than a month. On the 19th of May, a Gripen who had flown to Čáslav in the Czech republic to take part in a joint exercise overran the runway. Both pilots ejected and the Gripen came to rest in a field.

Hungarian news website index.hu yesterday claimed that the runway overrun at Cáslav was caused by pilot error: the commander of the Gripen “pressed both the brake and the accelerator simultaneously” while landing. The Czech Defence Minister stated that a technical malfunction has already been ruled out, leaving only pilot error as the cause. The pilot was discovered to have only flown eight hours this year. The aircraft was severely damaged in both the front and rear.

Gripen means the griffin, a mythological animal that is half lion, half eagle and I think it’s fair to say the Saab has the majestic presence of both animals.

(I was deeply amused by this seven-minute promotional Wargames video for the Gripen in the Swedish air force, especially “Isn’t it a little short for a fighter?”)

However, the Hungarian air force losing two Gripens within a few weeks of each other seems rather careless. Luckily, the Gripen jet in the ejection video is expected to be repaired and returned to service.

On top of everything else, today Hungary’s air force lost a third aircraft, a Yakovlev Yak 52 training plane which caught fire during a training exercise. One pilot suffered burns, the other escaped the cockpit unharmed.

Hungarian airforce loses third aircraft in two months – The Budapest Beacon

[Defence Minister] Hende held a press conference at an air-force base in Kecskemét today to announce that Hungarian air force had improved considerably since 2010. According to Hende the number of pilots has increased from 20 to 32 and the number of technicians from 56 to 91. He also said that the number of hours spent in simulators by pilots each year had increased from 1484 in 2009 to 2632 in 2014. Pilots make an average of HUF 555,000 (USD 2,000) a month, said the Defence Minister.

Investigations of all three accidents are in progress.

19 June 2015

Details of the Frightening Near Miss at Chicago Midway

View the Chicago Midway Intl (MDW) Airport Diagram to follow along at home

On Tuesday, two aircraft were on a collision course when ATC instructions weren’t understood at Chicago’s Midway airport in Illinois.

Delta Airlines flight 1328, a Boeing 717-200, was a scheduled flight to Atlanta, Georgia. On the recordings, this flight is referred to as Delta thirteen twenty-eight.

Southwest Airlines flight 3828, a Boeing 737-700, was scheduled for Tulsa Oklahoma. This flight is referred to as Southwest thirty-eight twenty-eight.

The interactions on the ground show the roots of the issue.

Ground ATC recording courtesy of LiveATC

Before pushback, the two aircraft could already be heard talking over each other. By 01:20, the Ground controller had straightened out the gate situation and gave the clearances for both aircraft to taxi.

Delta 1328 was given clearance to taxi to runway 04 right, and cross runway 31 right and hold short of 31 centre.

Southwest 3828 was offered a choice of 4 right or 31 centre. She then cleared them to cross runway 31 right for a departure on runway 31 centre.

Her final calls to the aircraft are clear.

Delta 1328, be advised, similar callsign on frequency is Southwest 3828. Cross runway 31 centre and 31 left and continue via taxiway Yankee to 4 right.

Southwest 3828, be advised, similar callsign on frequency is Delta 1328 and once you approach 31 right, as you are crossing it, you can switch over to tower. Have a good day.

Both aircraft acknowledged the controller’s warning.

Tower ATC courtesy of LiveATC.net

At the start of the second recording, Delta 1328 is lined up on runway 4 right. The Tower controller asked the aircraft to hold position, saying something about a cross runway (possibly a reference to Southwest 3828 on runway 31) and a landing aircraft inbound on runway 4 left (on a four-mile final landing parallel).

Delta 1328 acknowledged the call.

The controller then cleared Southwest 3828 to enter runway 31 centre and wait.

The critical point is at 0:46 of the recording, which goes something like this.

Tower: Traffic holding position on the cross runway, traffic on three-mile final for the cross runway. No delay please, turn left heading 250, runway 31 centre, clear for take-off, the wind 060 9.

This call is completely reasonable except that I never hear him actually state a callsign to make it clear who the controller is talking to. However, there’s only one aircraft on runway 31 centre, and that is Southwest 3828.

This call is meant to impart the following to Southwest 3828:

  • There’s an aircraft holding on the runway which crosses yours (this is Delta 1328 who was lined up and waiting on 4 right
  • There’s another aircraft inbound on the cross runway (04) who is on three mile final
  • Please take off with no delay (as the controller needs him out of the way so that Delta 1328 can take off and the inbound aircraft can then land)
  • Once you’ve taken off, turn left for a heading of 250
  • On runway 31 centre, you are cleared to take off
  • The current wind is coming from 060 and the windspeed is 9 knots

There are two transmissions at the same time. It seems pretty clear (sitting at home, listening to the recording over and over again) that both Southwest 3828 and Delta 1328 have acknowledged the clearance to take off.

The controller didn’t have the opportunity to listen to the transmission again but he’s clearly unhappy that the acknowledgement was so garbled. He repeats his instruction to make sure that it is clear. I have to admit, though, I struggled to understand the call at the speed at which he is speaking.

Tower: Thirty-eight twenty-eight verify: no delay, left 250 and 31 centre clear to take off.

Again, two aircraft responded at the same time. Southwest 3828 on runway 31 centre was the only aircraft clear to take off, but both Southwest 3828 and Delta 1328 acknowledged the clearance.

They both started rolling. The Tower controller realised that both aircraft were moving and started shouting.

Tower:Thirteen twenty-eight! Stop! STOP STOP!
Delta 1328: 1328, stopping.
Tower: 1328 make the right turn on to taxiway Delta, right turn to Delta, hold short runway 4 right.

Again, there are two transmissions at the same time. This time, you can clearly hear Southwest acknowledging the instruction given to Delta. Both aircraft have stopped.

Southwest 3828: Hold short runway 4 right Southwest 3828.

The controller may not always have been as clear as he could be, however I have to admire his calm under the situation, having just watched two aircraft under his control almost run into each other.

Tower:You keep answering for each other. It’s Southwest 3828 and Delta 1328. Southwest 3828, make the right turn onto Golf back to runway 31 centre.

The inbound aircraft is cleared to land and then there’s a moment of silence, presumably while everyone is taking in what just almost happened.

At about 03:00 there’s one last exchange on the subject.

Southwest 3828: We were Southwest on 31 centre. Were we the ones clear for take-off?
Tower: Yes, sir, you were, you were the one. You were doing what you were supposed to be doing.
Southwest 3828: And Delta was rolling also?
Tower: Yes, he took your call sign. Somebody kept stepping on you, I couldn’t figure out who it was and then, that’s why I reiterated that it was you that I was clearing to take-off.

Delta 1328 departed half an hour later and arrived in Atlanta ten minutes late. Southwest 3828 waited on a replacement Boeing 737-700 and departed almost four hours later, arriving in Tulsa 220 minutes late.

The incident is under investigation.

05 June 2015

UPS 1354 Final Report and Video Companion

The American National Transportation Safety Board released their final report on UPS flight 1354 this week.

The tragic accident happened 14th August 2013, when a UPS Airbus A300-600 crashed short of the runway at BHM in Birmingham Alabama. The crew were killed and the aircraft destroyed in what was an entirely avoidable crash.

Aircraft Accident Report AAR1402

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s continuation of an unstabilized approach and their failure to monitor the aircraft’s altitude during the approach, which led to an inadvertent descent below the minimum approach altitude and subsequently into terrain. Contributing to the accident were (1) the flight crew’s failure to properly configure and verify the flight management computer for the profile approach; (2) the captain’s failure to communicate his intentions to the first officer once it became apparent the vertical profile was not captured; (3) the flight crew’s expectation that they would break out of the clouds at 1,000 feet above ground level due to incomplete weather information; (4) the first officer’s failure to make the required minimums callouts; (5) the captain’s performance deficiencies likely due to factors including, but not limited to, fatigue, distraction, or confusion, consistent with performance deficiencies exhibited during training; and (6) the first officer’s fatigue due to acute sleep loss resulting from her ineffective off-duty time management and circadian factors.

I’m most impressed with a new initiative at the NTSB to release a companion video to accompany their final report. Take a look:

The eight-minute video is excellent. Experts explain the sequence of events which led to the crash to a backdrop of relevant video, including footage from the NTSB on-site investigation. It makes for compelling video with a focus on facts rather than drama.

This is the first video but the NTSB plans to produce them as standard for major accidents in the future. The Chairman, Christopher A Hart, explained: “People consume information and absorb lessons in different ways. This video is another way to reach pilots and aviation safety professionals with the lessons we learned through our investigative work.”

I’m very pleased to see them make the lessons learned from an investigation more accessible even though it might put me out of a job. I’m looking forward to seeing more companion videos accompanying those accidents with complicated conclusions. It’s also made my post this week very easy, so I’m off to the pub! I’ve got a great guest post for you on planes and beer next Friday. The week after that, I have exciting news for you regarding the next book in the Why Planes Crash series. So watch this space!

Or, you know, just subscribe and receive once-a-week updates when I post:


Either way, I hope to see you here in two weeks for my exciting news.

22 May 2015

Cal Rodgers and the first fatal birdstrike

Bird strikes are loosely defined as a collision between an airborne animal and a human-made vehicle. The animal in question is usually a bird but can also be a bat (and in one bizarre incident, a fish). Annual damages caused by bird strikes are estimated at US$1.2 billion for commercial aircraft worldwide.

Initial aviators had no idea that birds would become such a danger to aircraft. Wilbur Wright observed birds in order to design a control system when he first became interested in mechanical aeronautical experiments. He noticed that birds changed the angle of the ends of their wings to make their bodies roll right or left. Wilbur concluded that their flying machine should bank or lean into the turn just like a bird and that this would also enable recovery in gusty winds. This was a major breakthrough for aviation, where the idea of deliberately leaning or rolling seemed undesirable, if they thought about it at all.

Meanwhile, Orville goes down in history as the first known bird strike to a powered aircraft. It was the 7th of September in 1908. According to the Wright Brother’s diaries, Orville flew 4,751 metres (15,587 feet) in four minutes and 45 seconds as four complete circles. He passed over the fence in Beard’s cornfield twice and then chased a flock of birds for two rounds. He killed one, which landed on the flying machine but fell off when Orville was swinging a sharp curve.

The first bird strike fatal to humans was four years later, in 1912 at Long Beach, California, killing the pilot.

The Wright Brothers set up a commercial aviation business called the Wright Company in Dayton, Ohio at the end of 1909. The Wright Company had no interest in innovation. believing there was more money to be made in obtaining royalties from competing manufacturers or patent infringers.

John Rodgers was a Navy man who studied flying at the Wright Company in 1911 and became the second American naval officer to fly for the United States Army.

Calbraith Perry Rodgers

John’s cousin Calbraith Perry Rodgers went to visit John at the flying school in March 1911. Cal was immediately fascinated and signed up for flying lessons himself. He received an hour and a half of flying lesson from Orville Wright and on the 7th of August that same year, he passed his official flying examination at Huffman Prairie Flying Field, the same airfield where the Wright brothers had tested their aircraft since 1904.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale was founded at a conference in Paris in October, 1905 as an association to regulate the sport of flying.

FAI History

From its inception, the FAI defined its principal aims as being to”methodically catalogue the best performances achieved, so that they be known to everybody; to identify their distinguishing features so as to permit comparisons to be made; and to verify evidence and thus ensure that record-holders have undisputed claims to their titles.” The statutes also specified that each body holding sporting powers (i.e. the national members of FAI) should retain full and autonomous control over its own affairs.

It is now is the world governing body for air sports, aeronautics and astronautics world records.

In 1911, Cal Rodgers was the 49th aviator licensed to fly by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

He bought a new Flier, the first Wright machine ever sold to a private buyer, and set off to cross the United States in it. William Randolph Hearst offered a $50,000 reward to the first pilot to fly cross-country across the US in 30 days or less and with his new plane and 90 minutes flying instruction, Cal was up for the challenge.

Cal also created the precursor to banner advertising, arranging with a Chicago businessman, J. Ogden Armour, to sponsor the flight. In return for Armour’s sponsorship, Cal named the aircraft Vin Fiz, after Armour’s new soft drink, and spelled it out on the rudders and the undersides of the wings.

Cal Rodgers’ “Vin Fiz” Flyer (a Wright Model EX biplane) takes off from Sheepshead Bay on September 17, 1911 at the start of the first transcontinental flight across the U.S.

He had his first run in with birds on the second day of his cross country flight, when he clipped a tree with a wheel and crashed into a chicken shed. The flight was beset with difficulties and landed 75 times en route, 16 of which were crashes. The Wright brothers mechanic, Charlie Taylor, followed behind by train and repaired the aircraft so many times, almost none of the original build remained by the time they arrived in California.

Cal Rodgers completed the first transcontinental flight across the US but did not make it within the 30 days required to collect the Hearst reward. Nevertheless, he was cheered as a hero when he landed on the beach after travelling 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) from coast to coast. The actual flying time was just under 84 hours.

The following year, Cal was still in California and spent a week doing daily flights at Long Beach. He often took passengers with him. One of those flights went terribly wrong.

Daily Times; Chattanooga, Tennessee; April 4, 1912

Today he started from his usual place and soared out over the ocean, crossing the pier, and then returning, dipped close to a roller coaster in a beach amusement park. “Seeing a flock of gulls disporting themselves among a great shoal of sardines, just over the breakers, Rodgers again turned and dived down into the, scattering the seafowl in all directions. “Highly elated with the outcome of his dive, Rodgers then flew farther out to sea, all the time gradually rising until he had reached a height of about 200 feet. Making a short steep turn, he started at full speed for a pier, then suddenly dipped his planes and his machine began a frightful (rapid?) descent. Rodgers was seen by hundreds of persons on the pier to relax his hold on the levers and then, seemingly realizing that he was in danger, he made strenuous efforts to pull the nose of his machine into a level position.

When he’d flown into the flock of birds, he struck a gull. It jammed the rudder control, which he was unable to clear. The aircraft crashed into the surf just a few hundred feet where he’d finished his transcontinental flight with Vin Fiz.

Two lifeguards were the first to the scene and found Cal hanging over the wing. They lifted him to carry him to the hospital but he died on the way there. Later examination showed that his neck, jawbone and back were broken.

Cal Rodgers was the 127th aeroplane fatality since aviation had begun and the 22nd American aviator to be killed. He was just 33.

08 May 2015

Stinson Defies Gravity… Just

This video is from a few years back but it is new to me:

The aircraft is gorgeous, although it’s not a 105. The Canadian registration is for a Stinson 108-3 Voyager built in 1948.

The pilot that day reportedly commented on the video in a post in one of the Stinson forums.

Oh dear… Have to ‘fess up. Things do come back to haunt one, don’t they? This was me, Selina, in GYYF. Of course I have already received this video a few times in the last couple of days. I think it was 1999 or 2000.

What can I say? It was hot, I had 2 passengers and thought I knew more than I did about short field takeoffs. This little field is just outside of Victoria B.C. and once we were in the air we headed straight to Nanaimo’s LONG runway to land and assess damages. The only victims, other than my pride, were the gear fairings as I did a bit of landscaping on the way out.

The airfield was Quamichan Lake (Raven Field) Airport on Vancouver Island. The grass runway there runs almost north-south and is 549 metres (1,800 feet). It’s 130 feet above sea level.

What was I thinking? I sure didn’t use correct short field procedures and quickly ran out of room. I knew I was in trouble and also knew I was committed to the takeoff. As we lifted off my right seat passenger, a more experienced pilot (as was the second passenger in the back), was quick enough to yell at me to push the nose down and was ready to do so himself if I didn’t. That instinct to pull up is strong especially with the tops of the trees coming at you.

Just about the best learning experience I’ve every had… And probably the scariest.

Definitely one hell of a learning experience!

It seems likely that she posted it although her name might have been added later. Certainly, she’s the owner of the Stinson. I love that she’s not tried to make excuses but explains exactly what happened.

Selina Smith on LadiesLoveTaildraggers.com

Here’s a normal take-off from the same airfield:

Apparently she never went back.

Coincidentally I met the owner of this little field this past weekend at a fly-in and we had a little reminisce about my “incident”. The field is still in use although I think they have removed a few more of the trees at the end. I don’t think I’ll be tackling it again although a little voice inside says perhaps I should go back without passengers and do it properly!

If she does, I hope someone videos it for comparison!

01 May 2015

Pilot texts before crash : “It’s going down”

The pilot was a 60-year-old male with a commercial pilot’s licence and just over 3,000 hours flying time. He’d held a UK PPL since 1982 and had recently done aerobatic training in a Cessna 150. He’d owned a Cessna Citation (jet) as well as a variety of single and twin aircraft.

The aircraft was a Piper PA-38-112 Tomahawk, a two-seater, all metal aircraft. Tomahawks were designed for flight instruction but are also popular as a touring aircraft.

Part of the design brief was to build in realistic spin recovery behaviour by requiring specific pilot input to recover from a spin. A spin may be entered unintentionally or intentionally, as an outcome of unbalanced flight close to the aerodynamic stall. The PA-38 is cleared for intentional spins provided that a full four-point shoulder harness is fitted and the flaps are fully retracted. A series of flight tests were carried out October 1979 by NASA Langley Research Center, to evaluate PA-38 Tomahawk spin behaviour and recovery. From these tests, the average rate of descent was calculated to be of the order of 5,000 ft/min to 6,000 ft/min.

The pilot leased the aircraft for a three-month period starting in early June. The aircraft was given a 50-hour inspection on 4 June before being handed over to the pilot two days later. The lease allowed the pilot to use the aircraft for 50 flight hours or three months, whichever occurred first. There would only have been a few weeks left on the lease.

He kept the aircraft at Elstree Aerodrome and flew it regularly on local flights. He flew to other local airfields, sometimes flying around the area before landing. He’d flown approximately 20 hours in the aircraft to airfields and helicopter landing sites in the south-east of England, with an average distance of about 60 nautical miles. He had an iPad mini which he used to track his flights. That morning, there were 32 other recorded flights which tracked his GPS movements from initial taxi to parking.

On Wednesday, the 20th of August, he arrived at Elstree early. The weather was good and the skies were clear, a perfect day for flying. He departed the airfield at 09:33 and flew to Turweston Aerodrome. He landed at 11:26 after flying circling manoeuvres just to the south of Buckingham. He sent one SMS during this time, which wasn’t related to the flight. He tracked the flight on his iPad mini and stopped tracking after the aircraft had landed.

He spent half an hour on the ground at Turweston, where he spoke to acquaintances and refuelled the aircraft with 40 litres (10.5 US gallons) of Avgas. He was described as chatty, friendly and relaxed. He departed 11:56 and landed at White Waltham at 13:00, again tracking the full flight until after landing.

He spent some time at White Waltham and then booked out for a flight to Elstree. So far it had been a normal flying day that matched his others.

However, then it got odd. He filled in the booking sheet to confirm that he was departing at 17:00. But five minutes before he was due to leave, he phoned Elstree Tower and told them that he would not be returning that day. He didn’t mention a new destination to anyone at White Waltham and he did not update his booking sheet.

He went to the aircraft where he discovered that the battery was flat, because he’d left the Master switch on. He spoke to the airport office and personnel from one of the maintenance organisations at White Waltham came out with a battery booster starting aid. They told the pilot that typically after an hour of flight time, the battery would be fine.

It was 17:08 when he took off from White Waltham and headed north. He tried to make a phone call but wasn’t able to get a network connection. A few minutes later he reached 2,200 feet and made several phone calls, each lasting about two minutes.

He was south of Buckingham when he climbed to 2,800 feet started flying in approximate circular patterns with a 2-3 nautical mile radius, similar to the flights he’d done that morning. He phoned the same person he’d spoken to earlier in the flight and the phone call lasted for about 90 seconds. The pilot then made a series of phone calls to another person which were only connected briefly before the calls ended, which was likely connectivity problems. The Class A airspace above him started at 5,500 feet and he remained clear of it, flying patterns between 2,500 feet and 4,700 feet for almost an hour.

At 18:22:54, the track logging on his iPad ended.

At 18:31, he attempted to call a relative but the call didn’t connect. Twenty-five seconds later, he sent a text message to the same relative.

…I’m in a plane out of control and it’s going down…

The full message was 148 characters and the aircraft at that time was about 1.8 nautical miles north of the crash site. At the time of the message, the aircraft’s groundspeed was approximately 64 knots and it gradually turned to the left over the next 49 seconds.

Two minutes later, he contacted Farnborough Radar North frequence with a MAYDAY call

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. Golf Bravo November Delta Echo er lost control of the aircraft and it’s gone into a spin.

The transmission lasted about 8 seconds. The controller responded asking the pilot to set 7700 on the transponder. The pilot confirmed his approximate position before saying “I can’t control it” at 18:34:07. That was his last transmission.

Witnesses near Padbury saw the aircraft enter a descending spiral from what appeared to be normal flight. Others first noticed it when it was already fast descending in a spin or spiral. Several witnesses heard the engine running.

The aircraft impacted the ground at Hedges Farm.

When emergency services arrived, the aircraft was upright on a grassy area at the edge of a field and the smell of Avgas was in the air. The tail was lying against a hedge. The wreckage showed that the aircraft struck the ground in a left spin at a high vertical descent rate.

There was a “sputtering” noise coming from the aircraft which ceased after a member of the fire crew turned off switches. The fuel tanks were punctured on impact and the fuel drained into the ground beneath the engine. The fuel selector was set to halfway between OFF and LEFT.

Cause of the death was the injuries sustained in the impact.

There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol. He did not show signs of any disease which could have caused his death or contributed to his losing control of the aircraft.

It was obvious that the aircraft had entered a spin from which it never recovered. The investigators focused on weather, training issues or mechanical defect which could have caused or been a contributing factor to the spin. The weather was clear and the pilot was in visual conditions throughout. The pilot was experienced and had taken lessons in aerobatics, which would have included spin awareness and recovery. It seems likely that he would have been able to recover from a spin which, based on the final radio transmissions and the calculated rate of descent, started from at least 2,500 feet and probably higher.

There was no evidence of engine failure at all, other than that the propeller showed little evidence of power at impact. The primarly flying controls showed no evidence of a pre-impact disconnect. The fuel selector setting may have been moved by the fire crew member who turned off switches but investigators felt it was more likely that the pilot had attempted to turn off the fuel. The “sputtering” noise was likely the gyroscope or the electric fuel boost pump, which means the battery held a reasonable charge at the point of impact. They were unable to find any mechanical defect that could have been a factor.

There was no sound of the stall warner during the MAYDAY call, although in test conditions, the horn would sound intermittently while the aircraft was spinning.

There were two mobile phones and the iPad in the aircraft. The final flight was recorded on the iPad, as the pilot’s other flights had been, with the recording starting at 16:53 at White Waltham Airfield when he was still parked. However, no active route had been selected for the accident flight and the recording was stopped at 18:22:54, eleven minutes before the aircraft disappeared from radar.

The system logs the date and time if the battery dies. The data file was dated two days after the accident, which shows that the iPad computer was running at the time of the impact.

He had never before used the two mobile phones on board for phone calls during flight and he’d only once before sent an SMS, that morning on the way to Turweston. The final text, informing his relative that the aircraft was going down, was sent 25 seconds after the attempted phone call. It would “require considerable dexterity,” as the report says, to send a 148-character message that quickly in an aircraft that was out of control. The aircraft flew for over two minutes after this text message in which he said he did not expect to survive.

In addition, the radar track of the aircraft shows that he had control of lateral flight when the message was sent. The aircraft then changed track at the same time as the pilot transmitted his MAYDAY message in which he claimed he was in a spin.

The AAIB report reaches no conclusion. The post-mortem examination concluded that death was by multiple injuries sustained in the impact. The inquest, a legal inquiry into the cause and circumstance of the death, is expected to be held this month and likely with a jury. As alcohol/drug related issues, illness and mechanical failure have been dismissed, the common verdicts for cause of death available to the coroner are:

  • accident or misadventure
  • suicide
  • open verdict (insufficient evidence for any other verdict)

I don’t expect the verdict to come as a surprise to anyone who has read the AAIB report.

AAIB investigation to Piper PA-38-112 Tomahawk, G-BNDE Air Accidents Investigation Branch report – GOV.UK