Plane crashed ‘nose first’ into Notts runway

Retford (Gamston) Airport.
Retford (Gamston) Airport.

A plane crashed nose first into the runway at a Nottinghamshire airport after being caught in a sudden wind change as it landed, experts have said.

The Air Accident Investigation Board, which carried out an inquiry into the crash at Retford (Gamston) Airport, has advised pilots to be aware of potential “low-level wind shear” due to buildings such as hangars around airfields.

Two people – the 59-year-old qualified pilot and a reviewing instructor – were on board the 56-year-old Piper PA 24 when it came into Gamston for a “touch-and-go” landing just before 11am on Friday, July 21, before it was due to return to Leeds East Airport.

The passenger – an instructor assessing the pilot for a mandatory Flight Review – said the approach appeared to be “fairly stable”,

The AAIB’s report into the crash said the pilot said he suffered a drop in airspeed and turbulence at about 100 feet, which he corrected, but then a further sink at 20ft.

The report said: “He was unable to escape the downdraughting air and the aircraft struck the runway ‘fairly hard’ and nose first.”

“According to the passenger, the nose landing gear collapsed on impact and the aircraft skidded along the runway with the propeller striking the surface and causing the engine to stop.

“The main landing gear collapsed before the aircraft came to a halt.

“The two occupants evacuated the aircraft without injury, prior to the arrival of the airport’s rescue service.”

In its report, the AAIB said: “The pilot reported he had been landing at and taking off from Retford for 24 years.

“He had previously experienced worse conditions of windshear, on both available runways, than those encountered during the accident flight.

“He commented that, because the conditions did not seem bad during the early stages of the approach, he was probably not mentally prepared for the downdraughts which affected the aircraft shortly before touchdown.

“When reviewing the accident conditions, the pilot realised that when he experienced the downdraughts he was more or less in the lee of a long line of airport buildings and tall trees, so they may have created some rotor effect.

“He noted that when the reported wind was passed to him by radio, he was still some three miles from the airfield so, in hindsight, it may have been worthwhile if he had requested a further wind report when he was closer.”

Summing up, the AAIB highlighted the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s manual on low-level windshear, “which states that buildings such as hangars and fuel storage tanks commonly cause low-level windshear, particularly at smaller aerodromes”, leading to “horizontal wind shear, which is normally very localized, shallow and turbulent”, but “is of particular concern to light aircraft operating into smaller aerodromes but has also been known to affect larger aircraft”.