Thursday, September 11, 2003

My First Mishap

Yesterday was a very long day. It started out with the typical preparation and brief for my first night contact flight in the C-12. I preflighted the aircraft and specifically remember checking the nose gear. Everything looked fine. The flight began with me in the back and another student and an instructor flying. We went to an outlying field and did the pattern for about 10 touch and goes. The instructor was giving the typical simulated emergencies which require the gear to be raised until landing is assured. On final to one of these landings they put the gear down and the nose gear light failed to illuminate indicating it was not fully extended. The instructor took over and we started to troubleshoot. We flew directly back to Corpus Christi and circled in the overhead pattern. I broke out the NATOPS (aircraft manual) and we went checklist by checklist on how to handle it. Manual extension failed. Porpoising failed. We did a low approach and the tower confirmed the nose gear was only lowered a few inches. We went back up and circled some more. Maintenance, Crash, and the Chain of Command were called. We continued to circle to burn off fuel before attempting to land. After about 4 hours we were ready to come down. I was in the back so I had to remove the emergency escape hatch. A simple pull down over the right wing. It came out easily and was very disquieting to see a large gaping hole in the side of the aircraft while we were flying. The noise and dust was not as bad as I expected. I stowed the hatch along with all of our other gear so it would not turn into a missile hazard. The nacelle (fuel tank) low light came on with 550 pounds in one of the wings. We prepared to land as one of the instructors advised our instructor over the radio that "he should probably take this one" and not the student. We of course told our instructor that they said he should let us take it. I assumed the crash position and the instructor took it down. Once on deck the instructor held the nose up while the student secured both engines. The nose was held up as long as possible under control and the instructor put it down. There was no immediate deceleration. I have no idea how hard the instructor was stomping on the brakes. We rolled to a stop and could smell the melted fiberglass that used to be the lower portion of the nosecone. As briefed I didn't wait around and was out the escape hatch climbing down the wing. I jumped down and walked straight back as the crash crew and ambulances barreled up the runway on both sides. Looking back I saw the other two running. We met up and made sure none of us were hurt. The commanding officer (CO) and flight doctor were first to us and they asked the same. CO informed me he had elected not to call my wife and asked us to call everyone who needed to be called. All 3 of us whipped out our cellphones. The wife knew I had a night flight and it would be late so she had gone to bed. I left a message that I was okay and was in an accident and would be home late. Once the crash crew signaled clear we checked out the plane. The damage was hard to see. The engines had been secured so the propellers had not done much damage to the runway. The nose was resting on the runway about 6 inches from the centerline. Someone took a picture of the three of us infront of the plane. A friend later commented on my smiling saying "the other two look like they have been in plane crash."

We were soon off to the hospital after signing some paperwork for the crash crew that we were not hurt. Off to the hospital we went to fill out a journal of everything we had done for the past 48 hours in 30 minute increments. This from someone who doesn't know what he had for breakfast. After that we got a full work up including blood and urine samples. The flight doc gave us a physical to make sure we were okay and finally I was heading home. Rikki was up when I got home. She had received the message but had not been able to get ahold of me. I explained everything and had to stay up a while before the adrenaline wore off. The squadron was nice enough to give me the next day off.

All this led to a thorough investigation by a mishap board of officers in the squadron. I was impressed with how well everything was taken care of. When we came down that night they had ambulances waiting and a helo medivac standing by. I really believe everything that could be done had been done. The investigation turned up a faulty part and added another 2 bolts to check on preflight inspection up inside the nose gear. These 2 bolts are what caused both the electrical and manual gear to fail. After the accident I remember that while reading the aircraft maintence record before the flight that someone had reversed the gear in transit. This is very bad because it strains the landing gear system. Because of this action special maintenance was required and completed before our flight.

My life did not flash before my eyes and I can't say I was that worried. After 5 hours in the back I was ready to land one way or the other. The thought did cross my mind that a bad landing could turn us into a cartwheeling ball of fire (all those accident videos they show us in training kept coming to mind). I guess if I had to pick a way to go.... at least that one would make the 6 o'clock news.


September 10th at about 11:45pm Nathan gives me a call to let me know that “Everyone is ok, we had a little bit of an emergency and I will not be home anytime soon.” I freaked out when getting this message. I tried to call him back but did not get an answer. When Nathan got home at 2am I found out that his plane came down with no nose gear. I gave him such a hug and held on. He wanted to know what was wrong and I said, “you left me that message and I was scared.” He didn’t realize that I got the message and tried to call him back.
When he landed he was taken to the flight surgeon for a physical and some testing. He also had to write down what he did in the last 48 hours at half hour intervals. An investigation was underway to try to find out what happened. When sitting down to talk to Nathan about what happened I asked if there was a maintenance log that was kept on the airplanes. There was a problem with the nose gear in a previous flight. A pilot had the nose gear come down and then go back up too quickly. So the assumption became that when maintenance fixed that problem there was a short circuit in that system the night that Nathan flew.