South African investigators have determined that a BAE Systems Avro RJ85 was forced to land with its nose-gear retracted after mechanic did not properly reconnect a gear-door operating rod following maintenance.

The Airlink aircraft (ZS-SSH) had been a late substitution for the Johannesburg-Pietermaritzburg flight because the jet originally assigned had a pressurisation problem.

Although the ramp controller told the pilots that the nose-gear doors were still open, the crew were unconcerned because the technical logbook did not cite any defects from the previous flight.

But after take-off the crew heard excessive noise and vibration from the nose-gear area after the undercarriage was retracted, and chose to return to Johannesburg after recycling the gear failed to resolve the matter.

When the undercarriage was lowered for landing, however, only the main gear extended. Attempts to free the nose-gear did not succeed and the aircraft landed with its nose-wheel retracted. There were no serious injuries among the 78 occupants during the 10 November 2011 event.

Investigators found that the nose-gear door operating rod, disconnected by a mechanic for inspection, had not been reconnected and had subsequently jammed the nose-gear mechanism.

Disconnection of the rod had not been recorded on maintenance documentation or in the aircraft’s technical logbook, nor was there a warning on the nose-gear doors that work was in progress.

“It is a matter of concern that it is evident that a pre-flight inspection was not carried out on the aircraft by [maintenance] personnel prior to the flight,” says the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

“If a proper pre-flight [check] was indeed carried out, the defect in the nose landing-gear, with the nose landing gear in the open position, could have been noted and corrective action taken.”