by Fabian Hakalits – EM TV News, Port Moresby
2015 marks the four-year anniversary of the ill-fated Airlines PNG aircraft disaster, which saw 28 passengers tragically killed.
It was on that black Thursday afternoon, October 13, 2011, when an Airlines PNG Bombardier DHC-8-103, registered P2-MCJ, crash-landed in Madang.
Most on board were families of final year students at Divine Word University, on their way to Madang for a ceremony.
Last year, the PNG Accidents Investigation Commission finally released the aircraft incident report, sighting pilot error.
Airlines PNG Bombardier DHC-8-103 was conducting a regular public transport flight from Port Moresby to Madang via Lae.
On board were three flight crew members, the plane’s captain, first officer, flight attendant and 28 passengers.
Information was sourced from the black box by the investigators.
The report revealed that the autopilot couldn’t be used because the yaw damper was unserviceable, so the aircraft had to be hand-flown by pilots.
Once in air, the flight diverted right of the planned track and avoided thunderstorms and cloud.
The captain reported communications between Madang tower and an aircraft in the vicinity, indicated to descend below the cloud and was looking mainly outside the cockpit.
Because of the storm, there was some urgency to descend beneath the cloud based to position for a right base, for run way 07 at Madang.
On this route, the descent to Madang was steep due to the need to remain above the Finisterre Ranges.
Although the aircraft was descending steeply, propellers were at their cruise setting of 900 revolutions per minute.
Neither the pilot noticed the airspeed increasing towards the maximum operating speed.
The propeller blades angle changed from forward to ‘beta’ or reverse range – the tremendous speed drove the engines turbines that exceeded the maximum permitted revolutions per minute. It seriously damaged the left hand engine that stopped the right one too.
This caused a big bang, that was also heard by villagers.
The emergency caught both pilots by surprise, with confusion and shock on the flight deck.
On the captain’s order, the first officer made a mayday call to Madang tower, and gave the GPS position, remaining in a lengthy radio exchange with Madang tower for 63 seconds.
The flight crew didn’t conduct emergency checklists and procedures, but instead their attention turned to where a force landing was to be made.
The aircraft descended at a high rate, with the wind-milling left propeller creating extra drag.
The asymmetry between the wind-milling left propeller and the feathered right propeller made the aircraft difficult to control.
The average rate of descent between the onset of the emergency and arrival at the crash site was 2,500 feet per minute, and at one point exceeded 6,000 feet per minute.
The first officer had said the aircraft would be ditched, although after a brief discussion, the captain subsequently decided to make a force landing in the mouth of the Guabe River.
Approximately 800 feet above sea level and 72 seconds before the impact, both engines shut down.
The captain decided to land beside the river that wasn’t readily visible from air.
The plane crashed landed on the impacted terrain at 114 knots with flaps and the landing gear retracted.
The tail was impacted first, consumed by a fuel fed fire.