In the early 2000s were on a mid-afternoon flight returning to Aeroparque, our main domestic airport in Argentina, in the old a reliable Boeing 737-200 after a “round flight” as we used to call to those flights in one direction with three stopovers. The Captain that day was a good fellow that used to fly Connies doing cargo in Central America, I enjoyed hearing stories of his flights. On the last leg he was PF.
At about 150 miles from our home base, I’ve got in touch in the Company frequency with our Flight Dispatch Office. Aeroparque was reporting rain showers with good visibility to the north, approach in use was ILS 13, but because of wind direction we had to do a visual circling over the river for Rwy 31. After doing the approach briefing, set the speed bugs and run the descent & approach checklist, at about 100 miles from our destination, we begin our descent. Everything progressed normally and we were cleared to a fix for a 12 NM localizer final.
The visual circling maneuver for runway 31 requires a left turn to a heading of 105 degrees and is flown over the Rio de la Plata river until turning from base to final. At 6 NM, with visual contact with the runway, we started our circling maneuver to the left of the center line. We flew the downwind leg at 2000 feet AGL with flaps 5 and 180 KTS., in calm air, the 737 was flying smoothly. Abeam of runway threshold we started timing for 30 seconds before turning base.
Then, we observed that right on final for runway 31 at about one mile from threshold there was a strong and concentrated rain shower.
Entering base leg, we lowered the gear, set the flaps on schedule, completed the landing checklist and started our descent to 900 feet AGL before turning final. On this portion of the approach we flew perpendicular to the shore and right over the port, we could see the red cranes pointing to the sky. We turned on a 4 NM final and with runway in sight we established on a 3 degrees final approach.
We entered the rain shower, it was very intense and we lost complete visual contact with the runway, with no radio aids for the approach we just kept the runway heading and altitude waiting to regain visual clues to complete the landing. The noise of the windshield wipers was very loud and we had to speak loudly to communicate between us. At a certain point, still inside the rain shower, the Captain advanced the trust levers and announced… – Go Around! Flaps 5!- I moved the flap lever to the go around position and with positive rate I placed the gear up.
The missed approach procedure for this runway requires an immediate right turn over the river. After completing the turn, the ATC controller requested our intentions. We agreed to give another try, then instead of waiting for the cell to move aside from the runway center line, we made a 360 degrees turn and lined up again on final. Obviously conditions remained the same, again we entered the rain shower and lost contact with the runway. The Captain maintained 500 ft AGL and runway heading. Suddenly at about 1 NM from threshold we broke out of the rain and got the runway in sight in visual conditions,
We were too high for landing, then the chain of errors continued, then the Captain said…- give me flap 40! – and pushed the nose down. The speed increased far beyond Vref for previous flap setting and when we crossed the threshold. We were flying too fast. We floated over the runway due to excess speed and mains made contact more than half distance of the 2000 MTS. of runway. The Captain tried to unlock the trust reverser’s, but the speed was so high that the main landing gear strut was not on firm contact with the runway so the weight-on-wheels sensors were not allowing the reverser’s to be deployed.
The runway end was approaching fast to us, in the meantime we were both standing on the brakes. Finally, we stopped at less than 10 mts from the runway’s end, reverser’s still deployed at full power took us a few seconds to react and bring them down.
Taxing into the parking bay, I was looking at the face of surprise of the engineer standing in front of the airplane, after all passengers left, when I meet him outside, he said – follow me … this has been your lucky day son..- and then he showed me the two inner flat main tires.
Many of us, at end of day, experience that sensation of self satisfaction when everything has gone well and the task is accomplished. Problem is when we put pressure in ourselves in accomplish the mission and that pressure interferes with the normal decision making.
Another lesson learned, don’t rush….everybody and everything can wait.
“if we professional pilots share our experiences, we are making a safer aviation”