• An A36TC Bonanza. (Robert Frola)
    An A36TC Bonanza. (Robert Frola)

Date of Accident: 28 April 2003
Time of Accident: 1239Z
Aircraft Registration: ZS-LFC
Type of Aircraft: Beech A36 TC
Licence Type: PPL
Licence Valid: Yes
Age: 46
Total Flying Hours: 604
Hours on Type: 125
Last point of departure: Gariep Dam, 370 miles NE of Cape Town
Next point of Intended Landing: Stellenbosch, 20 miles east of Cape Town
Location of the Accident Site: Runway 34 Cape Town International Airport
Meteorological Information: CAVOK. Wind northerly at 15 Knots, Temp + 24°C
Number of people on board: 1+3
No. of people injured: 0
No. of people killed: 0


The private pilot was accompanied by his wife and two children on a return flight from Gariep Dam to Stellenbosch. Approximately 20 minutes prior to arrival at Stellenbosch the pilot obtained descent clearance and commenced with his descent. The power was reduced and 10° flap was selected. The pilot then noticed a sudden drop in electrical power, which continued for approximately 3 minutes. The pilot reported the situation to Cape Town ATC in anticipation of a possible communication failure and to notify any traffic at Stellenbosch about possible communication problems.

He then attempted to extend the landing gear with the normal system. The landing gear started to extend but stopped approximately midway through the extension cycle whereupon all electrically powered systems and instruments ceased to operate including the radio. Further communication between the aircraft, Stellenbosch and Cape Town took place via cell phone.

The pilot circled overhead Stellenbosch aerodrome and attempted to lower the gear with the manual gear extension system. Due to the fact that the landing gear was partially extended and 10° flap had been selected the pilot experienced difficulty in flying the aircraft as well as operating the emergency gear extension handle located between the front seats and requested his wife to operate the gear extension handle but she also experienced great difficulty. A person on the ground at Stellenbosch aerodrome was in contact with the pilot on his cell phone and confirmed that the gear was only partially extended. The pilot then diverted to Cape Town. On arrival at CApe Town the pilot again flew past the control tower, who reported that the gear was in the retracted position. The aircraft was subsequently landed on Runway 34 with the landing gear in the retracted position. Damage was caused to the propeller, fuselage and flaps of the aircraft. None of the occupants were injured.

Probable Cause

The cause for the initial electrical failure was attributed to the failure of the alternator and a worn master solenoid as well as a short circuit in the instrument lighting system. The pilot was not familiar with the manual gear extension procedure and failed to follow the correct procedure as stipulated in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook as well as the placard between the two seats.

In the process the manual gear extension lever was turned the wrong way round which resulted in the partially extended landing gear being retracted instead of being extended, and resulting in a wheels up landing.

Jim’s Analysis

Would I have been happy to sit in the back of this aircraft? Certainly – why not? A reasonably experienced pilot with over 100 hours on type. Decent weather. What can go wrong?

Actually, there is a bit of information I didn’t tell you. The pilot didn’t bother to read the handbook or understand the systems. Nope, I am afraid I don’t fly with folks like that.

But, you know, I can almost understand it. A few years ago we had unreliable cars and motorbikes so we quickly learned to get our hands dirty and fix things on the roadside. But those skills have largely disappeared with modern cars.

So if you have always driven Subarus, Toyotas and Holdens, you simply don’t need to know what goes on under the bonnet. And when you walk from your Ford to your Bonanza, you don’t really want to get in touch with its machinery. Who reads their car handbook, or even their smart phone book?

Unfortunately, our light aeroplanes should not really be compared with modern cars. They have two things working against them. Modern aeroplanes are not really modern. Their engine designs are mostly more than 60 years old. And I suspect this aircraft itself, was at least 30 years old.

You either have to start learning about your aircraft’s systems, or you pay the price, like this man.

However, understanding a pilot’s lack of mechanical interest is one thing, condoning it is very different. Who’s condoning it? Well, his instructor for a start. Why didn’t this guy get a proper conversion to his aircraft? Or was he just so certain that nothing could go wrong that he couldn’t be bothered with basic mechanical understanding?

Many years ago, I crashed an Aztec in Port Elizabeth for much the same reason. I converted to the type, and a few hours later I had a genuine engine failure – no sweat, I knew how to handle that. But I hadn’t been taught, nor had I read in the handbook, about the procedure for getting the gear down with the left engine feathered. Either you know how to do it, or you don’t.

If you suddenly need this information when you are in a fast sinking aircraft on final approach, and it is not in your head… well it’s too late. And you bend an expensive piece of equipment, and frighten your pax, and yourself.

The Bonanzas (and Barons) have a very simple undercarriage system. There are no hydraulics to leak and give trouble; it’s all electric. The motor is behind and between the front seats. After pulling the circuit breaker, all you have to do is remove a plastic, or leather, cover and swing the red handle into the cranking position. This engages it directly to the shaft of the electric motor. You then have to crank it 50 turns ANTI-clockwise.

This is not an easy task. The handle is in an awkward position, and it needs quite a lot of brute strength to turn it – particularly towards the end.

The little prefix ANTI is what caused the nonsense here. The electrics got the gear halfway down, the pilot then wound it nearly all the way UP. He then instructed his wife to continue turning it clockwise. So they arrived over Cape Town in a perfectly serviceable aeroplane, with the gear fully up. All that was needed was for someone to read, and follow, the very simple instructions for emergency gear extension.

But no, they threw it on its guts. Criminal.

Also, a hell of a lot of unnecessary damage was caused by the pilot putting the flaps down. But that’s a discussion for another day.

All this guy needed to do was read the handbook – once – when he bought the aircraft. Then read the instructions next to the handle, and then crank the right way – which is clearly shown.

He could even have called his engineer on his cell and asked what to do.

I don’t get it. Why don’t folks bother to read the instruction book for any piece of equipment? I am as guilty as anyone else – except when it comes to life-threatening stuff like aircraft, firearms, diving equipment and so on.

What Can We Learn?

Obviously one has to keep saying it again … and again… and again….

Like Peter, Paul and Mary sang in the 60s, “When will they ever learn?”

RTFM - Read The Factory Manual!

comments powered by Disqus