This is the story of a young reckless Captain, a guy who thought he can place his own minimums, well below the established ones; luckily he is still alive to tell.
Several years ago, on a winter night, he departed with a Fairchild Metroliner from an airport in the distant Patagonia for a 30 min. flight, at the departure airport, the horizontal visibility was below prescribed minimums for takeoff. Anyway, keeping the landing lights off during the takeoff run, to avoid glare, he flew away.
At the destination airport, when he requested start clearance, he was reminded by the tower that minimums at destination airport were still below landing minimums due to fog. Turning to his young First Officer with a smile he said: – No problem, let’s go.
He arrived at the destination airport racing another Metroliner from a cargo company and lined up for a straight in ILS, at the minimums there was no runway or lights visible at all, they continued down to 150 feet AGL and still not having visual contact, they missed the approach.
The second Metroliner leaved the VOR to begin the approach. At this point a silent competition was established between the two aircraft – which one will make it first.
When our Captain was asked by the tower about his intentions, he answered: – We will try another approach. The second aircraft missed too and flew back to hold over the VOR.
Descending again below minimums for a category I ILS, they found only a black hole at 150 feet AGL and missed second time, a glimpse of the runway lights on the side windows told them they were lined up with it, a good job for manual flying with no flight director and no autopilot. Again, the tower asked: Intentions? – We will give another try.
The cargo Metroliner went around second time too and flew back to the VOR to hold. Plan for third approach was to tighten even more the minimums down to 100 feet, but lined up with localizer and glide slope. The tower alerted of ice patches on the runway surface. Their performance during the third approach was fairly degraded, due to nervousness and fatigue but they managed to reach the published minimums lined up with the runway and stabilized on approach and speed.
As they expected, at 200 feet there was only blackness, 150, still nothing at 100 the First Officer announced: – Runway lights! Touchdown was firm and when reverse was applied, the aircraft started veering to the left of the runway, the Captain came out of reverse and applied power to bring the airplane back to the centerline, in that instant, an acute noise was heard when they hit a runway light with the left propeller. Reverse was applied again and they stopped within the runway environment.
Taxiing back to the apron, a deep silent reigned in the cockpit; the First Officer went through the after landing checklist and in a skillful maneuver, after opening the passenger door he stood in front of the left propeller to avoid the passengers to see it was bent at the tips.
Nothing else happened that night, the second aircraft arrived uneventful and the tower was wandering at following morning why part of the runway lightning was lost; they discovered the cause when they found a smashed runway light. Several questions, several denials later and that were the end of the story. The propeller was changed and the aircraft was flying at following day.
At this stage I guess you have an idea who was the Captain of that aircraft that night. Yes, me.
A humble mechanic gave me a small piece of propeller at following morning and completed a lesson for me I will never forget.
This story is intended to tell what you must not do, you will always learn from guys doing a professional operation and not from ones bending the rules, the edge gets narrow and you may fall.
Photos: Eduardo Paz