Pilot had to chase runaway aircraft

A pilot who was in a hurry to get airborne hand-started his engine by swinging the propeller with the throttle on a high setting and the ignition switch on — and was forced to chase after it as it moved across the field, hit a ditch, and burst into flames.

The 54-year-old male pilot, who had 405 hours of flying experience, had also failed to chock the aircraft. Chocks are wedges of sturdy material set against the wheels to stop accidental movement.

The upshot of the incident in Mullinahone Airfield, Co Tipperary, on July 5 was that the pilot was uninjured but the aircraft was “destroyed”.

In a report on the incident, air accident investigators said they were aware “of a number of similar accidents that have occurred in the past”, including one that led to a fatality in Australia.

That particular incident had prompted investigators to comment that “hand-swinging an aircraft propeller is recognised across the aviation industry as a hazardous procedure” and “should only be undertaken when no other alternatives exist to start the aircraft engine”.

The Federal Aviation Authority handbook notes that “the procedure should never be attempted alone”.

The pilot in this case had intended flying to Sligo Airport from his private airfield. He brought the light aircraft out of the hangar at 10.15am to hand-start it. He told investigators he set the throttle to “a higher than the usual setting”, and set the ignition switch to on.

When he swung the propeller, the engine started and the aircraft moved about 70m across the airfield where it hit a boundary fence and overturned. It came to rest on an electric fence.

The pilot said the fuel began leaking and the fence may have acted as a source of ignition. The fuel ignited and the aircraft was destroyed.

“The pilot, who had pursued the aircraft on foot, remained at a safe distance, and was not injured,” states the report.

He subsequently submitted a detailed description of the event, including a photographic survey of the site.

The pilot, who is a member of the UK Light Aircraft Association, informed the Air Accident Investigation Unit that he had passed on details of the accident, and agreed for this report to be reproduced in a future edition of its monthly periodical, Light Aviation.

He also agreed for the report to be circulated for safety awareness purposes in Ireland by the General Aviation Safety Council of Ireland.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit said it “welcomes the assistance provided by the pilot following this accident and his willingness to have the occurrence highlighted for safety purposes”.

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