Pilot error – a tragedy avoided
by Had Robinson
Serious pilot error is not limited to those in the ultralight community. On September 1, 2018, this $900K Piper PA-46-350P Mirage N747DA was totaled at our local airport, Dona Ana County International Jetport. According to an eyewitness of the accident, it was because the pilot did not do a proper preflight. Namely, he did not check that the total takeoff weight of the aircraft was less than the maximum allowed.
The eyewitness said he tried to take off in one direction but could not get enough lift to clear the end of the runway. That failing, the pilot turned the aircraft around and attempted to take off in the opposite direction. The overloaded plane just could not make it and went into the deep sand adjacent to the runway with a full load of fuel, the pilot's family, and their cargo. I do not know what the density altitude was that day but it is typically 7K'-10K' i.e. the air behaves as if the runway was 3-6 thousand feet higher than it actually is. That is, we have dramatically less lift and less propeller thrust than at sea level. This has to be taken into account when loading an aircraft.
The pilot and passengers were very fortunate that the aircraft did not flip on its back or catch on fire. Note that the damage to the aircraft's fuselage was enough that the main cabin door could not be closed after the accident. What was going through the minds of the people inside when the plane came to a screeching halt in the sand and the main cabin door was jammed? Providentially, they were able to force it open and exit rather than face the possibility of being incinerated.
Hitting deep sand at 110 mph had to be a harrowing experience.
Resting place of the Mirage at the end of Hangar J. My 40 year old winch-van is in the foreground, just in front of my hangar. "Better a live dog than a dead lion."
Sam's Club folding tables have a new use.
The nose landing gear did not do too well hitting the sand at 110 mph.
Things were bent pretty badly. What a mess!
Note the severe deformation of the starboard wing. The landing gear could not be fully retracted. The belly of the fuselage did not appear to have hit the sand but it certainly must have hit the bushes. Note the missing lens of the bottom running light.
The port main landing gear – a lot of serious frame damage along with broken struts and supports. View is from the rear-left.
A look-see into the storage well for the nose wheel. The main frame support of the landing gear is bent badly.
The nose wheel tire is going flat. The aircraft hit the sand with such force that it jammed a small rock in between the wheel rim and the tire, allowing air to escape. Also note the damage to the surface of the tire. The tire plowed into the sand all the way to the top. Had the aircraft hit one of the small mesquite mounds that surround the airport, it would have likely flipped. It's hard to imagine what would have happened.
The engine was at full power when it hit the sand. You experts out there can explain why the rear of the propeller blades had some of the paint removed. The blades did not appear to be deformed but may have struck the loose sand anyway.
Another view of the damage to the starboard wing.
The radar dome hit things, probably the bushes growing in the area.
Here is the main cabin door. I think I would have been terrified had I not been able to exit the aircraft. When the crane moved it, they had to put a strap around the fuselage to hold the door closed.
A closeup view of the top of the port wing, just above the landing gear. When struts and whatnot pop through the top of the wing, serious forces were involved. Had this happened next to the fuel tank or had a fuel line been severed, everyone on the aircraft would have most likely been burned to death in the ensuing inferno.
The damaged starboard flap.
Just because you can afford an expensive aircraft does not mean you have more sense or are better trained than the rest of us. Are pre-flights important? Something to think about.
N747DA during better times. Photo courtesy of Flight Aware