Australia’s crash investigator has warned pilots to be vigilant in closing plane canopies after a tragic crash in Geraldton claimed the life of the pilot.
Former Nationals’ branch-president Gerry Gould’s two-seater Lancair burst into flames when it crashed at Geraldton Aerodrome on September 18, 2013.
Mr Gould was attempting to return to the airport after his canopy opened just on take-off.
Mr Gould, a well-known businessman in Geraldton, was pulled alive from the burning wreckage.
He suffered severe burns to 70 per cent of his body and died later at Royal Perth Hospital.
A 53-year-old airport employee who was burnt trying to rescue Mr Gould was also taken to Royal Perth Hospital.
The Australia Transport Safety Bureau found that there had been no previous incidents involving Lancair canopy latching systems. Given the finding the manufacturers will not install any warning systems.
“These devices are not always successful and the burden of proper aircraft system management ultimately lies with the pilot,” the ATSB said.
Mr Gould was flying from Geraldton to Newman and taxied for take-off at 3.45pm.
It was overcast with cloud down to as low as 600m above ground level and rain showers in the area, but winds were light.
According to the ATSB Mr Gould began the take-off roll with substantial engine power and the aircraft was observed to accelerate normally to about halfway along the runway.
“At this point, smoke from the main wheels indicated that the brakes were applied momentarily, and at about the same time the forward-hinged canopy opened about 15 to 30cm”, according to the ATSB report.
“No change to engine power was evident and the take-off roll continued.”
The ATSB suggests that Mr Gould may have thought momentarily of aborting the take-off but elected to continue and come back.
The aircraft lifted off with runway to spare and climbed to about 30 to 45m above ground level.
The pilot banked the aircraft to the left and during the turn the canopy opened further so that it was at an estimated angle of 30 degrees.
People on the ground saw the aircraft flying low and fast with the canopy open.
The ATSB said that pilot appeared to be manoeuvring for a landing on runway 08 but the aircraft undershot the approach and the wheels hit a road kerb short of the airport perimeter.
The aircraft then collided with the perimeter fence and became entangled as it overturned.
Shortly after, an intense fire engulfed the aircraft the ATSB said.
The report added that “bystanders tried to extinguish the fire with handheld fire extinguishers and a water truck from a nearby worksite but were unable to have immediate effect”.
The pilot was rescued from the wreckage and treated for burns, but later succumbed to his injuries.
The ATSB said that Mr Gould wanted to land as soon as possible which was an understandable reaction.
But the reported noted that he had limited opportunity to understand the behaviour of the aircraft with the canopy open at different speeds and flap settings.
“There was also little time for the pilot to plan an approach to mitigate the effects of the open canopy,” the report concluded.
The ATSB said that Mr Gould would have been experiencing difficulty in controlling the aircraft as he approached for a landing with the open canopy.
Airflow over the tail would have been disrupted with an adverse effect on pitch (nose up/down) stability and controllability and without flaps set the pilot might have had difficulty stabilising the airspeed.