CAA accident report summary: Navion
Date of accident: March 21 2001
Time of accident: 0345Z
Aircraft registration: ZS-TOM
Type Of aircraft: Navion
Pilot-in-command licence type: ATPL
Pilot-in-command flying experience: Total Flying Hours: 1286
Hours on Type: 430
Last point of departure: Springbrok Aerodrome (FASB)
Next point of intended landing: Springs (FASI)
Location of the accident site: About 1nm NE (215°) of FASB S29° 40,366’ E017° 56.587’
Meteorological information: Fine conditions
Number of people on board: 1
Number of people injured: 0
Number of people killed: 1

The aircraft took-off from Springbok Aerodrome to Springs Aerodrome (near Johannesburg) early in the morning under typical night conditions when the Eastern sky just started lighting up.

The aircraft entered a tight left-hand turn after take-off and impacted the mountain initially with its right-hand wing and rolled over to impact the top surface of the mountain in an inverted attitude.

The pilot was fatally injured during the impact.

No defects were detected with the aircraft or its systems.

Although the pilot was night-rated, he had not flown in night conditions in the last 23 months.

Probable Cause
The pilot suffered from special disorientation during the take-off in the night/very early morning light conditions and lost control of the aircraft.

Jim’s Analysis
This guy chose to do a night take-off when he knew he was far from current. Strangely, the regs at the time didn’t have any use-by date on night ratings.

There are plenty of if’s and but’s about when you can carry pax at night – but no limitations or expiry dates on solo flying – which is what our guy was doing. So he was legal.

Of course, legal and sensible are not necessarily the same thing.

He took off about an hour before sunrise, and while the accident report is almost lyrical about a lightening of the eastern sky, it is obviously wrong because it then goes on to say he became disorientated, which pretty much means no horizon.

The only runway at Springbok is 10/28 – roughly east/west, and we don‘t know for certain which runway he used. If he took off towards the west he would have had only a short distance to backtrack.

However he would also have been taking off into blackness. On the other hand, a westerley takeoff on 28 would have given him the town lights as a reference. But then after take-off he would have had to turn roughly 180° onto heading.

The runway is in a valley between a ridge to the north and koppies (hillocks) to the south. Normal circuit height of 1000’ agl isn’t enough to clear the terrain, so Springbok circuit height is 1300’.

This means that any turn after takeoff on a black night is extremely dangerous. It also means that local knowledge plays a huge role part in night or instrument operations. In addition, mis-setting of the altimeter could be fatal.

Although the pilot had been into Springbok before, it seems probable that he did not have sufficient local knowledge to be safe at night.

The way I see it, this guy had the odds stacked against him and yet he wasn’t prepared to wait another half an hour or so to be safe. It seems like another case of a pilot letting the reason for the flight overcome his own reason.

What can we learn?
- While night ratings don’t have a use-by date, instrument flying skills do.

- Don’t be short on local knowledge and visibility at the same time.

- Don’t let the reason for the flight overtake your reason.

- Choose not to crash – another half hour or even a couple of days is a better choice than death.

Jim Davis has 15,000 hours of immensely varied flying experience, including 10,000 hours civil and military flying instruction. He is an established author, his current projects being an instructors’ manual and a collection of Air Accident analyses, called Choose Not To Crash. Visit Jim's website by clicking here.

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