Incessant coughing by a passenger on a flight with excitable children aboard distracted a pilot so much he landed without putting the aircraft’s landing wheels down, an air crash report by the Australian Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) revealed last week.
The pilot blamed a passenger coughing “incessantly” into his headset during a short charter flight in the Northern Territory for the mishap, in which the plane crashed and skidded but no-one was hurt.
Due to the late arrival of a passenger on one of his earlier runs, the pilot had been delayed throughout the morning.
The pilot reported that the three children on board were excited and a little disruptive, and he had kept a close watch on their activities.
“Concurrently, the passenger seated in the front seat coughed incessantly through the headset, which distracted him,” the ATSB report states. It does not name the pilot or the company.
The report says:
On 12 December 2014, the pilot of a Cessna 310 aircraft registered VH-TBE (TBE) was completing a charter flight from Oenpelli to Jabiru, Northern Territory. On board were the pilot, two adults and three children.
During the short flight, one of the passengers coughed incessantly through the headset which distracted the pilot. Once he had the aircraft stable he reached over and unplugged the headset.
The pilot manoeuvred the aircraft to join a late downwind for runway 27 at Jabiru. He reported that, as he commenced the pre-landing checks and verbalised ‘undercarriage down’ but made a decision to defer the associated procedure. He elected to keep the aircraft speed slightly higher than normal and as per the company procedures kept a stable power setting and profile and only made adjustments when needed at around 300 ft. He was also mindful of a Cessna 210 aircraft close behind VH-TBE.
He then focussed on the passengers, especially the children, and made sure that they all had their seatbelts correctly fastened prior to landing. The children were still highly excited.
The pilot reported that he normally completed the remaining memory-recall PUFF (set Propeller pitch, Undercarriage down, and Flaps Full down) check on final approach, but on this occasion he did not.
As the pilot flared the aircraft for landing he became aware that the undercarriage was not down and the propellers contacted the ground.
When the aircraft came to a stop, he checked on the welfare of his passengers and opened the door for them to exit, directing them to assemble in a safe area. After completing shutting down, he also exited the aircraft. There were no injuries to either the pilot or passengers; however, the aircraft was substantially damaged.
This incident highlights the impact a combination of distractions can have on aircraft operations.
Written by Peter Needham