BEAVER ISLAND MICHIGAN COMMUTER CRASH-OLD AIRPLANE, TURBULENT FLYING CONDITIONS
The tragic crash of a Brittan Norman Islander twin engine aircraft killing four persons is one reason why flying in old reciprocating powered propeller airplanes is a recipe for disaster.
Long ago I represented Wings Airways, a commuter airline that operated the back then old Britten Norman Islander aircraft. While they were reliable, they were old, noisy and had basic old airplane systems that while they rarely failed were in constant need of repair.
That’s just one of the problems with old airplanes, they break down a lot and usually without much notice.
The other problem with the Islander is that when you load them up, if an engine fails it is not easy to fly.
They have fixed landing gear and struts on the wings so there is a lot of drag.
The winds that day were modest about 15 knots with gusts to 25 miles per hour before and after the accident time. Gusty winds can be challenging especially in the upper Peninsula of Michigan where they vary all over the compass.
At the time of the accident the winds were not unusual but there was likely low-level turbulence and wind shear. I have flown there and with partly cloudy skies it would have been a bumpy ride below the clouds.
For some reason, the aircraft went to Beaver Island, didn’t land and returned about an hour later.
Perhaps the winds and turbulence were too challenging for the pilot who was part-time.
A look at the propellers will be telling to see if both engines were making power but if they prove to be operating normally, I would look at the weight of the passengers and cargo and what the surface conditions were at the time of the crash. The Islander can carry a lot but in gusty bumpy conditions, it can be a challenge. The airplane built in 1970 has carbureted engines which can be a problem since carburetion has long been dispensed with as a less than reliable means of providing a stochiometric fuel air mixture to aircraft engines. That’s a big word but in short means a mixture of fuel and air that will burn properly.
Island Airways will be liable for the loss of those aboard and the injuries suffered by Laney but a very careful review of the simple Islander systems will have to be made to see if anything else contributed to this crash.
May the memories of those killed be a blessing to their families.
Arthur Alan Wolk
November 15th, 2021
For more commentaries click here.