By Dan Walsh
The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) has released its preliminary findings into a crash landing on a beach near Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford, on September 23rd 2021, in which, fortunately, all persons on board survived.
The twin-engine aircraft, a Partenavia P68 Victor, with one Pilot and three passengers on board, departed Waterford Airport (EIWF) at 11.08 hrs. All of the passengers were part of an environmental research team and the purpose of the flight was to record sightings of a variety of marine wildlife. During the occurrence flight, one passenger was seated in the front right seat next to the Pilot, and the two other passengers were seated in the row directly behind.
The plan for the flight was to fly at low altitude along 16 pre-defined survey lines. Each line was approximately 45 km in length and the lines were spaced approximately 4 km apart. The planned 16 survey lines were completed after 4 hours and 30 minutes of flying. Following a discussion with the passengers, and after assessing the remaining fuel, the Pilot determined that there was approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes of fuel remaining and they decided to complete two more survey lines before returning to EIWF.
The Pilot informed the Investigation that two minutes after commencing the final survey line an abnormal drop in the indicated fuel quantity was observed, the right engine stopped, and within approximately four minutes the indicated fuel quantity in the right tank dropped to zero.
The Pilot advised that he switched on the fuel pump and pushed the throttle, fuel mixture and propeller levers forward, in an attempt to re-start the engine, which was unsuccessful. At the time of the right engine stoppage, the aircraft was travelling at approximately 108 knots (kts). Recorded data shows that the aircraft then climbed to approximately 500 feet (ft). The Pilot said he carried out the actions required to secure the right engine including feathering the right propeller. The Pilot noted that the left engine and left fuel quantity indicator at this point were stable. The Pilot decided to fly directly to EIWF which he estimated was approximately 20 minutes away.
However, the Pilot informed the Investigation that he had difficulty gaining and maintaining altitude on one engine, and that he did not believe the left engine was delivering full power. He said that he verified that the left fuel selector and fuel pump were on, and that he moved the fuel tank cross feed to ON, waited and then turned it OFF again, but it did not make any difference to the engine power.
He decided to fly close to the shore so that a forced landing could be carried out if necessary. The Pilot reported that when the aircraft was turned towards EIWF at an altitude of approximately 250 ft, the left engine stopped. The Pilot attempted to re-start the left engine several times. The Pilot said that the engine did re-start but each time it re-started, it stopped again within a few seconds. The Pilot then flew directly to the shore and when the aircraft reached the shore, he banked the aircraft to the left and carried out a forced landing on the beach. The beach surface consisted of loose shale causing the aircraft to decelerate rapidly on touchdown. This caused the aircraft to pitch down, and the nose of the aircraft impacted heavily with the surface, causing significant structural damage to the cockpit and forward cabin areas. The Pilot informed the Investigation that immediately after landing, the left engine spontaneously re-started and accelerated to full power. The Pilot said he pulled the engine mixture lever back to stop the engine.
The passengers exited the aircraft through the aircraft door and the Pilot exited the aircraft through the windscreen which had broken during the impact. The Pilot and one passenger sustained serious injuries during the impact sequence and were airlifted to hospital by two Coastguard helicopters that attended the scene. The two other passengers sustained injuries and were taken to hospital by ambulance.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit on-call duty Inspector was notified of the accident by Shannon Air Traffic Control (ATC) at 17.30 hrs on 23 September 2021. Three Inspectors of Air Accidents deployed to the accident site where Gardaí with the assistance of local people had secured the aircraft, which had come to rest in the intertidal zone of the beach.
During the night of 23 September, an initial examination of the aircraft and site was carried out. At low tide the aircraft was moved to a position above the high-water mark. The following morning further examinations of the aircraft and accident site were completed before recovery of the aircraft to the AAIU’s secure wreckage examination facility at Gormanston, Co. Meath for further examination.
The forced landing was performed on a beach near Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford. The surface of the beach consisted of loose shale and sloped towards the sea.
The aircraft was a Partenavia P68 Victor manufactured in 1973. It was powered by two Lycoming IO-360-A1B engines, each of which was fitted with an MTV-12, 3-bladed, variable pitch, constant speed propeller. The aircraft cabin could accommodate a maximum of six people (one pilot plus five passengers) with seating arranged in three rows of two seats. Each seat was fitted with a ‘lap-strap’ style seatbelt. The two front seats were also fitted with a single shoulder strap. Cabin access and egress was provided by a door on the left side of the aircraft.
The aircraft had a Certificate of Airworthiness issued by the French Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC) on 11 April 2018. The most recent Airworthiness Review Certificate was dated 29 October 2020 and had an expiry date of 02 December 2021.
A preliminary examination of both engines was carried out at the accident site and at the AAIU wreckage examination facility. The preliminary examination found that:
There was no evidence of a fuel leak on either engine.
The fuel hose that was identified as the source of the fuel leak on 18 September 2021 was found in place, with the connection secure.
A small amount of fuel was present in the gascolator5 bowl for each engine.
The fuel injector manifold which divides the fuel between the four cylinders of the engine, was found to be dry for both engines. The right engine was then removed from the aircraft and shipped to a UK engine test facility approved by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The fuel hose at the inlet to the mechanical fuel pump was left undisturbed. The test was witnessed by a Senior Inspector of Air Accidents from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). The test report made the following observations: The engine was connected to a dynamometer to replicate a propeller.
The engine was connected to the test rig using the engine’s own fuel and oil hoses. The engine started normally.
The engine had no oil or fuel leaks at the time of the test.
The Pilot informed the Investigation that the fuel tanks were full prior to departure of the accident flight and that he used a fuel consumption value of 62 litres per hour for flight planning purposes. He said that in his experience, the fuel gauges on this aircraft were reliable. At the accident site, the Investigation removed the refuel caps from both wings and noted that there was a quantity of fuel in each fuel tank. A sample of one litre was taken from each tank. No fuel leaks from the fuel tanks were observed at the accident site, and the fuel tanks were re-secured for transit to the AAIU wreckage examination facility. A sample of fuel drained from the occurrence aircraft was tested by a specialist laboratory.
Met Éireann (Aviation Services Division) provided the Investigation with an aftercast of the weather conditions at the time and location of the accident; Wind: Surface: West-northwest 5-8 knots (kts) 2000 feet (ft): Northwest 10 -12 kts Between surface and 300 ft: Similar to surface Visibility: 30 kilometres (km) Weather: Dry and sunny Cloud: Largely clear skies, isolated fair weather cumulus with bases around 2,500 ft.
The passengers stated that they were wearing the lap strap seatbelts provided in the aircraft as well as life jackets and immersion suits. A life raft and a crash axe were also carried on board. The passengers reported that the Pilot carried out regular safety drills as well as briefings before each flight.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) is satisfied that WexfordLocal.com publish its findings, however, it points out that this is a safety investigation, exclusively of a technical nature, and the Final Report reflects the determination of the AAIU regarding the circumstances and its probable causes. The Final Report will follow.