Aviation Safety Letter 2/2003

Overloading Keeps You Down

Crashed Piper PA-31 Navajo

The following information was provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) for promotional purposes.

A privately operated Piper PA-31 Navajo departed Charlottetown, NL, on a day visual flight to Sango Bay. At takeoff, the aircraft lifted off shortly before the runway end, and was observed to remain at tree-top height until disappearing from view towards rising terrain. The aircraft struck the surface of a gravel road 1.5 mi. off the end of the runway, then slid off the road and struck a road embankment. The pilot and two passengers died in the crash, and one passenger received serious injuries.

The aircraft was 260 lbs over its maximum allowable take-off weight at departure from Charlottetown, from a 2 500-ft gravel runway. On the previous flight, the aircraft was estimated to be 940 lbs over its maximum allowable take-off weight when it departed Gander, from a 10 500-ft paved runway. The cargo was not restrained, and shifted forward during the impact, striking those seated in the back of the aircraft.

Examination of the wreckage and the wreckage trail showed that the aircraft hit the road surface in controlled flight with the gear and flaps up. Ground markings showed that both engines were producing significant amounts of power, and both engine throttles were found fully open. This was the second fatal accident in the Atlantic Region in 2001 involving overweight aircraft and cargo that was not loaded in an approved manner.

The other fatal accident occurred on March 13, 2001, and involved a Piper Comanche, which was heavily laden with fuel and cargo (TSB Final Report A01A0022). The aircraft took off at night towards downtown St. John's, NL, and climbed to 1 600 ft ASL before losing control. The aircraft subsequently spun into the ground in a residential area, narrowly missing housing. The aircraft was estimated to be 425 lbs over its maximum allowable take-off weight. The ferry tank system that the pilot had installed was not approved by Transport Canada. There were many articles of cargo on board that were not properly stowed or restrained, and some of these articles may have interfered with the aircraft controls. The aircraft was outside of its approved centre of gravity limits, which would have adversely affected the controllability of the aircraft.

In both occurrences there was overloading and incorrect stowage of cargo. In both occurrences lives other than the pilots' were placed in jeopardy. The disregard for safety whereby pilots continue to operate aircraft in excess of the maximum allowable weight limitations is cause for continuing safety concern. The entire aviation community must sustain a relentless effort to improve operator awareness of the hazards associated with flying overweight or out-of-balance aircraft.

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