Ditching in the Irish Sea
Kate Burrows was flying from Guernsey back home to the Isle of Man in her PA30, a Comanche Twin, when she noticed problems with her right engine. She shut down the engine and, as she was still some 38 miles from the Isle of Man, she decided to divert to Blackpool. A few minutes later, her left engine lost power. She contacted the distress centre and they recommended she continue to Blackpool but she realised she wasn’t going to make it.
Another pilot heard the conversation and reported it on PPRuNe.
GA Aircraft Ditching Irish Sea
Heard this unfold on D&D when overflying – Female pilot reporting double engine failure and unable to make destination at that time reported to be 18 miles away. She sound relatively calm and composed under the circumstances, reporting that she was visual with some oil rigs and would circle around them…….and “possibly land on one”!! However I am delighted that she made it, job well done – even if it wasn’t the planned outcome!
Kate Burrows signed up to the forums as ManxLadyBird and gave a first hand account of her experience:
I did indeed ditch in the Irish sea. I was about 38 miles from IOM when my right prop had a runaway, it was overspeeding in excess of 2800 rpm and I could not stabilise it. The MP was low as well so I did not have much to play with. I felt it was uncontrollable and shut it down.
The PA30 can fly perfectly well on one engine so I descended to 4000 ft to get out of the cloud layers and diverted to Blackpool. About 6 minutes into my diversion my left engine lost power. My MP was down to 17 inches. I did all the checks changed fuel tanks, cross feed, electrics, boost pumps etc. No go.
D & D wanted me to try for Blackpool 18 miles away but I would not have reached there. I was near the oil rigs so elected to land in the vicinity. I spotted the support ship and ditched near it. I got out and had to hold onto the life raft. There were no steps on the life raft and no way to pull myself in.
The oil rig helicopter was hovering nearby to spot me whilst the support vessel rescue craft picked me up. Once on the ship I was checked out and the RAF Seaking from RAF Valley winched me up and took me to Blackpool. I was checked out at the Hospital there and ok to fly home on Manx2.com’s aircraft. All the emergency services and the police were fantastic and couldn’t have been more helpful.
Lots of things were in my favour. In my training as a commercial pilot it was instilled ‘fly the aircraft’. Sort out the problem and then make a decision and stick to it. This is what I did. My husband insisted on me flying in an immersion suit. Thanks to him, it helped. The weather was benign but cold. The sea had slight swell. If the wind had been greater than the 15 or so knots the waves would have been bigger and it might have been different. The ship was there and were alerted so I was only in the water for about 5 minutes.
Was there anything I would have done differently , no I don’t think so. I did everything I could think of the get my engines back but once I had made the decision I followed it through. Even having 2 engines doesn’t always guarantee getting there but someone was looking over my shoulder on Wednesday and I am here to have Christmas with my family.
The PA30 hit the water at approximately 90mpg. The pilot’s description of the final moments of the flight were published in the Isle of Man Today:
‘I opened the door of the cockpit prior to touching down. I didn’t really have time to think about it — I just got into emergency mode. I said a few Anglo Saxon words to the effect “oh dear, I’m going to get wet”.
‘I landed tail heavy so it took all the force of the approach. The tail took the brunt, the cockpit bellyflopped and the door flew open. An oil rig helicopter hovered about 100ft away.
‘I climbed on to the wing and made for my life raft but I couldn’t get in it — I was hanging on to the side. The tail of the aircraft was at 90 degrees to the fuselage.
‘I was only in the water for four to five minutes when the fast response craft from the support vessel came to pick me up.’
She rang and told her husband: ‘I’ve broken the aeroplane and my finger nail.
He replied: ‘Why can’t you just break cars like other people!’
Meanwhile, back at the PPRuNe forums, ManxLadyBird gave a detailed description of how she felt as this was happening.
If you remember back to your very first landing you did as a student pilot, not even a solo, but your first. You thought you were going far too fast and ooooh ‘eck its gonna hurt, but you flared and the wheels touch down and all was calm…. well the first part is true and the second part isn’t.
I was lucky because I had my undercarriage folded away so I had a relatively smooth underside. But you feel you are coming in far too fast, but you cannot slow down, certainly in a Comanche as if you go much below 80 knots she will fall out of the sky, so you come in fast, the lower to the water you get you tend to lose a bit of elevator authority or so it felt, you feel like you want to stretch the glide but that won’t work either.
At the last couple of feet you haul on the elevator and touch down tail hard so it takes all the force of the landing and bleeds the speed off. It makes a hell of a bang, and if I knew what hitting a brick wall was like I would say it was like hitting a brick wall. It was hard.
The main fuselage then belly flops on the water. You should already have opened the door and latched it open on the way down so when the frame distorts your door is already open. On the way down you have opened the door, you should then tighten your straps and put your feet on the floor. If they are on the pedals they could slip past and get trapped. What are you going to do with the pedals anyway? I also held onto the controls as a way of bracing myself.
I think because of hitting the tail hard and my bracing I prevented myself taking the full force of the ditching and therefore prevented whiplash. I had also made sure my props were feathered so the water did not catch them and help water loop me.
All my safety equipment was in easy grab reach. I told the D&D people exactly where I was ( but they knew that) and what I was going to do and they worked the rescue round me. They wanted me to glide 18 miles but I knew I had about 10 miles glide so I had to make the plan and execute it.
The other thing to remember is that your time frames all go to pot. What you think is 5 minutes could be 30 seconds or 10 minutes. I do know however that I ditched at 1223, like a good pilot I looked at my watch on landing!!
It’s always good to reflect on accidents with a positive outcome.
I found it fascinating to read a first-hand account of the sequence of events and how Kate Burrows dealt with the situation.
I can only hope that I am as level-headed and organised if I end up in a distress situation.