Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Concerning a Crash

The only thing I can add about Patrick, Claxton, and Diana's crash in Georgetown is that I knew two of them, and liked them. Patrick was a retired marine, had moved to the Myrtle Beach area and bought a home, had recently had a baby, and was a "motivated troop" when it came to aggressively pursuing flight opportunities. On independant bases, all involved know that flight volume equals job security, and the conventional wisdom is that it takes 30 flights a month to stay in business. Patrick set about ensuring that Conway performed enough transports to keep the base open. He was a capable pilot, had a great sense of humor, and was very popular.

I briefed him on base manager duties when he assumed that position. As we in Charleston shared radio nets with the Conway team, we knew what they were doing, when, where, and in what weather conditions. Some of the flights they pursued caused us to "raise our eybrows" at each other in Charleston, and on one occasion one of our pilots even tried to raise a "safety" flag. But at the end of the day we tended to our business and Conway tended to theirs. I regret this now. As a guy with 10 years of experience in this business, I should have seen where things were headed and raised my voice to bring attention to the situation. The night that Patrick and his crew crashed, Charleston pilot Tim Lilley was in Greenville, stuck for weather, and monitored them leaving Charleston toward Conway. Tim called Pat on the 800 radio, advised him that he had just checked weather and seen a storm moving into their path. Tim suggested they stay at the Charleston crew quarters, since they were going to be empty all night. Pat refused and advised that they were heading home. They never made it.

The investigation on that crash is not yet complete, so no definitive answers can be given, but the initial report does state that the aircraft flew toward an area of convective activity (or words to that effect). Witnesses on the ground saw the aircraft fly overhead at low altitude just prior to the crash. The training point to emphasize here is that we never have to press on. If someone on the ground could see the aircraft, persons on the aircraft could be assumed to be able to see the ground. An off airport landing is better than pressing on into a bad situation. We as AMRM instructors want to drive this home, and we want to drive this point into medical crews as well as pilots. While the pilot should be the first to realize that a bad situation is developing, sometimes we get tunnel vision, or fixation, or suffer some other lapse. Perhaps we succumb to perceived pressure from "above" to "get er done". Regardless, someone on that aircraft needs to speak up and call a halt...

Putting a Chinook in the water, or not...

After getting signed off to instruct Amphib Two, which is what the video is showing, I had a couple of guys with me out in a river near Fort Smith/Fort Chaffee. I was having each guy do three evolutions of landing to the water with the ramp open (which is actually quite a bit different than landing on the water with the ramp up), onloading a combat rubber raiding craft or CRRC, flying a pattern, and putting the boat back in water for another go. So I had, if memory serves, Marie's husband up front and we are getting it done. As it was night, I noticed clearly the port position light was occasionally disappearing under the water, but I didn't consider the ramifications. This was a level one SA failure. As it happened we were also training crew chiefs to perform the ramp duties. Oh, and the guys in the boat were training too. (Bad call, never have more than one piece of a complex operation in training). As we were at JRTC, which was in Chaffee then, we had a generic miles gear kit installed, with a wire running up the right sponson, and into the forward compartment where, as luck would have it, an engine control box lived. The wire broke the seal on the compartment door, and allowed air to escape, which allowed water to flow in thru the open drain ports at the floor of the compartment. This was getting ready to be a problem. The first problem though was that we were too deep, and the ramp opening was too close to the water. The boat made a run for the chemlights taped to the ramp opening, and ran a soldiers head right into the ass end of the aircraft. He went swimming. The boat made a go around, and the FEI made it about half way thru explaining this when we lost comms with the back. Water got into the ICS box near the ramp. I took the controls, lifted the aircraft (now pretty heavy with a belly full of water pouring out of a hundred and something drain holes) to a 30 foot hover, and tried to get control of the situation. Then the number two engine began to decelerate with a torque split and a drop in rotor. That was the water getting into the N2 control box in the compartment on the front of the sponson. We were in a trick.

It was at that moment that a piece of training that I got in the IP course saved the day. As a younger pilot, I had been conditioned to pull the cyclic rearward after losing an engine, as this is what you do when you "get one" in the traffic pattern. My instructor in the IP course took to giving me engine failures at a OGE hover, and I got the habit of accelerating in my muscle memory. So that night, at Fort Smith, as that motor drifted downward I just stood on the beep with my thumb and moved forward thru ETL. We got pretty close to the water. I declared an emergency with the Fort Smith tower, and freaked him out when I did a run on landing with "fuel" pouring out of the aircraft all over the runway. We were done for that night.

Safe flights boys!