By now most of you will have heard about a minor accident last weekend when one of our members became unsure of his position because of poor visibility many miles to the south-east, attempted a return to Serpentine, ran out of fuel, and had to make a forced landing near Mundijong.
As always with such events, there is much to be learned from the incident, not least the real reason for turning everything off once you are committed to a forced landing (below, perhaps, 1,000 feet).
Why? Because if you don't, the engine can burst back into life when small amounts of fuel slosh to the rear of the tank as you flare for the landing, and that surge of power can take you past your chosen field and cause you to damage the aeroplane.
That much is obvious, and in this case was the cause of a nose-wheel collapse and firewall damage.
However, another dimension arose when the temporarily abandoned aeroplane was seen from above by an eagle-eyed pilot who was concerned for the occupants' safety.
I got the following letter from John Young, the Manager of SAR Operations:
Aviators involved in emergency situations that turn out well often then deal with the situation as the independent souls that they all are. Often they do not recognise that the search & rescue system may have been activated anyway, even if they don't ask for it.
It would be good if pilots made precautionary radio calls in such circumstances.
In this case an overflying fixed wing aircraft reported the Jabiru on the ground apparently with a nose wheel collapse and no-one to be seen around the aircraft, but he could not get low enough to confirm the circumstances or get a registration. That came to the Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra via Melbourne Centre and Perth TCU. The RCC then took precautionary actions and got the Police helicopter out there to confirm that there was no-one injured in or around the aircraft. When that was confirmed the SAR phase was over.
All up it was pretty quick and not too expensive this time. You might appreciate that a similar situation in a more remote locality could be long and very expensive. So we try to get a key message out to recreational pilots - an explanatory call either to ATS via an overflying aircraft or direct to the RCC by phone (1800 815 257) can nip a potentially large-scale problem in the bud.
Manager SAR Operations
Might I respectfully suggest that we all put this phone number into our mobile phones, and give them a call immediately after any forced landing away from the airfield.
That way we could prevent unnecessary fuss and save a lot of expense.
Incidentally, this pilot did not make a Mayday call when his engine stopped (perhaps through embarrassment).
If I have an engine failure at any time, in ANY type of aeroplane, I always call 'Mayday' as soon as I have got the aeroplane under control and flying towards a landing.
That's what 'Aviate, Navigate, Communicate' is all about:
1) Fly the aeroplane
2) Select a field and set up a circuit or approach to it
3) Tell somebody. If it's a forced landing, call 'Mayday'. There's no shame. You can cancel it as soon as you are on the ground and the thing's all over. Nobody minds. In fact bored air traffic controllers are only too glad to have something to talk about in the pub that night.
If you don't call 'Mayday', there is always the chance that you will bump your head on landing and die of hypothermia overnight, or some other unexpected or silly way of ending your life.
ATC may sound like ogres (in fact they often do) but they are there to help you. Give them the chance.
Bob "Bob the Grim" Grimstead