He became aware of some power cables…

I love that phrasing: “he became aware” .. .it makes it sound like such a calm moment. I don’t usually haunt the accident reports (they make me nervous) but this one was someone I know.

The subject came up the first time as I was doing circuits at Oxford Airport for my night rating. I was doing a flapless landing in the dark, watching the papi. It looked good to me.

“Two reds, that’s right. Don’t get too low. I mean it Sylvia, don’t lose that height.” There was an edge to Alistair’s voice that was out of character. I did the touch and go and when we were back on downwind he said, “Ben had some trouble here, I’ll tell you on the ground. Just remember to maintain that height.”

I met Alistair through a very competent instructor named Ben. Ben got a job flying a Citation and although he was still doing a bit of teaching on the side, his schedule and mine rarely meshed so I didn’t see much of him. He’s one of those instructors that makes me want to fly better than I do: he’s good with the plane, patient with the training, and likes to have a laugh.

Once we were on the ground, Alistair told me about Ben’s last training flight.

“He was doing night flying, like this, and somehow they ended up a low on the approach. Flew straight into some cables.” I was relieved that I’d seen Ben briefly at the airfield that afternoon, so I knew he was OK. I had no idea there were cables there at all.
From the accident report:

An aircraft ahead in the circuit caused the trainee to extend the downwind leg before turning onto base leg and commencing the approach. The instructor stated that when the aircraft was approximately 400 metres from the threshold, he became aware of some power cables ahead which the aircraft then struck in the area of the nosewheel. The instructor immediately took control of the aircraft and commenced a go-around whilst declaring a “mayday ” to ATC.

After conducting a handling check overhead the airfield to check for normal control response and handling qualities, the instructor flew a circuit and low go-around to allow the AFRS an attempt at visually inspecting the aircraft using spotlights. They could not see any damage and the instructor rejoined the circuit. He then briefed the trainee for an emergency landing before commencing a final approach to the runway.

They landed just fine, despite damage to the nose landing gear and the wing. It sounds terrible, but I’m always cheered to hear success stories like this, proof of the resilience both of pilots and planes. The plane flew straight into power wires fifty feet above the ground and didn’t turn into a flaming fireball of death. That’s good, it moderates my own fear quite a bit.

It was a few weeks later when I ran into Tom, the man I blame for my PPL, and we were talking about what made for good instruction. We discussed Lee, my favourite instructor of all time, a man who is so passionate about flying that you can’t help becoming passionate as well. And then I mentioned Ben.

“I don’t know him,” said Tom.
“He’s a good guy. I met him through Louise.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of him, I think. I think he’s the guy who wrote off my plane.”

Ah, er yes. That would be him. A change of subject might be in order.

You’d think I’d be used to UK aviation by now … it’s a small world.

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