Night Rating Part Two- Things may not be what they seem!

Report No: 12/1977. Report on the accident to Piper PA31 Navajo, G-BBPC, at Walney Island Channel, Cumbria, 26 November 1976

PDF icon 12-1977 G-BBPC.pdf (2,727.56 kb)
The basis of Threat & Error Management (TEM) is learning from the mistakes of others. One of the greatest threats with flying at night is that you loose the normal visual cues you rely on for judging distance, flight path angle and height. You are also much more prone to nightime visual illusions which can catch out even the most experienced  pilots as we can see from this very sad Navajo accident at Walney Island. When you read this accident remember this was an experienced professional pilot at his home base. If he can get it very seriously wrong so can you and I!
What would you have done here, taken the into wind runway without approach angle guidance or taken the main runway with better lighting and  VASIS but with a crosswind on or just above limits?  I think I might have considered diverting to Carsisle but of course it’s always easy to be clever with hindsight. Notice the AIIB didn’t comment that a wet runway maximum crosswind landing is going to more tricky than the equivalent component on a dry runway.
Any night approach without approach angle guidance is certainly not my preferred approach but it would be definitely not an option for me with the ‘black hole’ that existed here and no approach lighting, together with the rain.
It’s also interesting that the AIIB did not comment on the inability of the passengers to initially locate the door opening mechanism. There is now much more emphasis on briefing passengers on how to get out in the event of an emergency in light aircraft but you always need to remember that you may have to get out in the dark, as in this case, (or even under water or upside down) if the normal exits jam or become unavailable. Most heavy impact arrivals distort the fuselage to such an extent that doors and hatches can jam. If your aircraft has only one normal exit how will you get out if it jams? It’s  best to think about this on the ground before the flight! Unlatching the door and even keeping it slightly ajar is a very good idea for an emergency arrival if this is action is approved by the aircraft manufacturer.

Note after this accident the airfield and aircraft operator banned the use of this runway for night approaches and in fact the complete runway is now out of use.

Find out more about visual illusions with this Airbus & FAA information


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