Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fell off a Tractor, part VI

After returning to look at the airplane, I was impressed with how much blood I had left in it. All the blood that DC had on him was mine also. After inspecting the plane, we knew it would certainly be considered "substantial damage" by the regulations, so we would have to report it. It was late in the day by then though, so the guys at the airport took us to Walmart to let us buy some clothes, then to the motel nearby.

I don't often draw significant attention to myself, at least intentionally. But walking into Walmart absolutely covered in blood is a good way to do that. If I had only been carrying an axe, I could have created terror in the store, no doubt. We bought some clothes, filled my antibiotic prescription, and checked into the motel.

The plan at that point was for one of our pilot friends back home to bring a plane and pick us up. He called to say he was leaving. An hour later, he called to say he was back at the starting point. He had climbed to 8,000 feet through some thick haze, and started experiencing partial loss of power. He made it back safely, and they later determined it was likely due to intake icing. They say bad things come in threes, so we started getting nervous.

A little later in the morning, they picked us up, and we went back to the airport. I wanted to inspect the scene myself. It is an odd feeling looking at your own crash site. But I came away with a good impression. I still don't believe I could have done any better under the circumstances. Still, it is odd picking up pieces of plexiglass with your own blood on them.

Our next option for a ride home was to have one of the helpful locals fly us. We waited for the fog to clear, then climbed aboard his Piper Arrow for the thankfully uneventful 2-hour flight home. Back at my home airport, I stayed largely out of sight, so I wouldn't be bothered by people asking about my new Frankenstein look. After getting our pilot on his way home, we sat down to hunt for the right phone numbers to call, and got started on the reporting process.

I've read many NTSB accident reports, and I know how they end up. You could argue for either one of us being the pilot in command. We were simply out on a pleasure flight, not an instructional one. However, since I had been instructing him previously and recently, and I was sitting in front of the controls, I will most likely take the heat for it. I don't really mind. DC wanted to take the blame; he was doing all of the flying. But I'm an experienced instructor, and he is a low-time private pilot. So I bet it will officially fall on me.

I faxed my narrative of the accident to the Nashville Flight Standards District Office, and the investigator will be inspecting the plane tomorrow. So we just wait and see. I believe that 40 degrees of flaps created an aerodynamic interference with the controls. Maybe the flaps were rigged slightly wrong in the first place. Eventually, I think that will be found to be the case. But I also think they will officially chalk it up to pilot failure to maintain control.

I am confident the plane is going to be totaled. There is just enough damage all over, that it would be a huge effort to repair, and likely not worth it. DC doesn't really mind. He can afford it, and he was never really comfortable in that plane from the start. He never found the confidence that usually comes from experience. So we will be flying in the next few days, back in the cockpit of the Diamond Eclipse, to see if he can still handle it. I think he will do fine.

Now, we get to sit and wait for the FAA to decide whether to pursue anything. We get to explain what happened to everybody at the airport. And we can reflect on the whole situation, thankful nothing worse happened. I won't get much of a break though. I cancelled today's flights, but I get right back into it tomorrow.

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