This is the second in my new “Lucky To Be Alive” (LTBA) series.
Exceptional piloting and a bit of luck (or perhaps devine intervention) allowed a flight instructor and his “student” to walk away from this downed Cessna 172RG near the Richard Lloyd Jones, Jr. Airport (RVS) in Tulsa, Oklahoma on 28 September 2010.
An excerpt from the flight instructor’s written statement tells the tale of survival better than I could.
“Within seconds of lowering the landing gear, flames started pouring out from under the instrument panel and up the front of the panel. The carpet on the floor also caught fire quickly.”
“Prior to the fire there was no sign or smell of any smoke,” he said. “I came over the radio and said ‘mayday! mayday! mayday! we are going down! we are on fire!’”
“I heard the tower ask, ‘what airplane?’ and I tried to respond with my tail number (N5245U), but by then my radio was not working.”
“I pulled the mixture immediately and asked Zac [the flight instructor candidate in the right seat] to get the fuel selector. He said he can’t because it was on fire and the floor around the fire extinguisher was also on fire.”
“I saw one small field below us. As I looked around I did not see any water and I knew I could not make the airport. I made a steep spiral toward the airport.”
“At this time the inside of the aircraft was full of smoke and I could not see the instruments and was having trouble breathing. I opened my door so I could see and breathe. I used me left foot to hold the door open.” This action caused the airplane to yaw left so I used my right foot to hold the right rudder.”
“My rudders were fully covered in flames. As I looked down at my feet I saw my foot was on fire and asked Zac to help get my shoe off – it was melting to my foot. He was able to get my right shoe off but my right calf was still on fire.”
As the aircraft got lower, the instructor saw that there were power lines in the field he wanted to land in, so despite the conditions in the cabin, he made one more turn.
Once ready for landing, he tried the flaps, but no joy.
“Just prior to impact, I saw a fence and pulled back to avoid the fence but was unable to. We impacted the fence and came to a stop suddenly. I exited the aircraft and put out the fire that was still burning on my calf.” Turns out Zac got out OK too.
N5245U PRELIMINARY POST MORTEM: Maintenance error
NTSB investigators, in the preliminary report, say they found evidence that the terminal lug on the hydraulic pump for the RG’s landing gear ”was improperly installed and had shorted”.
“There is no evidence that the exposed lug had been properly covered,” the NTSB continues.
”The inspector examined six other Cessna 172RGs at the airport and found two airplanes had exposed terminal lugs, three aircraft has a rubber boot installed to cover the lug, and only one airplane was equipped with the proper cover.”
“The inspector also discovered that the installation procedures for the hydraulic power package did not specifically mention the cover. Only the Cessna 172RG illustrated parts catalog depicted the correct and proper installation….”
I’m still not clear what was burning though – fuel, hydraulic fluid, the panel itself (from the short circuit jolt)? Ideas?