Saturday, May 22, 2010

Île-aux-Grues Accident

I was chatting online with a reader about anglophone Canadians' [in]abilities to cross the linguistic divide into the language of our other founding nation, when his newsfeed turned up a tragic small airplane crash on l'île-aux-Grues in the St. Lawrence River near Québec City.

The article linked above is in English; if you are able to embrace the français portion of my national heritage, the articles here have more details, and pictures. The more articles you read, the more contradictory details you can find on any accident, but it seems that the airplane flew in from Québec, parked for about an hour, departed again in the direction of Québec and then returned after ten or fifteen minutes at a very low altitude. It crashed into a mound in the field, ejected two of the four passengers and then bursting into flames. A witness saw one of the men die and resuscitated another, but could not approach the burning airplane with the other two victims. The resuscitated passenger was evacuated from the island but later died.

The Yahoo article says the plane "plummeted into the ground." A Radio-Canada story says "le moteur connaissait des difficultés. Le pilote aurait tenté de poser son avion d'urgence dans un champ" (there was engine trouble. The pilot attempted an emergency landing in a field). The comments to that article also have a long argument about ballistic parachutes, if you like that sort of thing. The eyewitness is quoted saying "J'ai entendu quand ils ont réaccéléré pour sauter la butte, mais il était trop tard," (I heard them throttle up to get over the hill, but it was too late). Something happened to that airplane, but whether the motor was troubled or gunned and whether the pilot was attempting to land or to clear the hill will have to be determined by the TSB investigators.

The airplane belonged to a flying school, and the aviatrix at the controls was commercially licenced; I believe the flight was a sightseeing charter. I've done many of those, in the same type of aircraft, but never had to drag one back at low altitude. If you do fly small singles, next time you have a full load, challenge yourself to pull the power to idle on approach and glide in to land. If you haven't practiced this way you may be taken aback at the difference in glide characteristics as compared to the empty airplane in which most flying school practice is done.


david said...

... and even at idle, the propeller is only partly windmilling (it doesn't have to fully turn the engine).

You'd have to turn the engine right off to get the full effect -- back in the 20s, I remember reading, student pilots had to routinely practice shutting the engine off on downwind and then making a landing behind the windmilling prop.

Aviatrix said...

Yikes, eh? But in those days the likelihood of getting an engine failure was so high that the risk of practicing it 'for real' was worth the payoff. It's a constant balancing act, which is why spin training has changed so much over the years.