(25 April 1998, Massachusetts) One fateful day in April, a private pilot landed his Piper PA-32-300 at the New Bedford airport. To secure his aircraft against thieves, he inserted a gust lock into the co-pilot's control column, and padlocked it in place. This procedure is fairly common, except that the gust lock is usually placed on the pilot's control column. That way it's hard to forget it when you prepare to depart. Many gust locks have a big red plate that hangs down to cover the ignition and master switch. We will never know why our soon to be dead friend chose to put the gust lock on the co-pilot's side.
Tom protests, "A gust lock pushes in on the yoke of an aircraft. This would cause the aircraft to remain on the ground, not climb, as the story claims."
The pilot went off to have some drinks and returned to his plane at 10:30 PM. He hopped into the aircraft with 155 mg/dL of ethanol in his blood, and departed without remembering to check that the flight controls were unobstructed. A witness to the accident reported that he departed the runway at a very steep angle, consistent with having a gust lock installed.
About this time, our erstwhile friend realized that he forgot to remove the gust lock, and that his plane will soon stall. The real problem is that the key for the padlock is on the same keyring as the key for the ignition. So he had two choices: try to remove the padlock key from the keyring while keeping the plane running, which will take more time than he has, or turn off the engine, which will accelerate the stall, then rush to remove the gust lock and restart the engine. He chose option B.
But he didn't make it in time. The airplane, its course fixed by the gust lock, "went straight up in the air like an acrobat" then appeared to level off, turn northwest, then northeast, followed by "a nose dive" and a rapid descent to the ground.
When the National Transportation Safety Board investigator arrived at the scene he discovered the padlock and gust lock still installed and the keyring with both keys still on it on the floor of the cockpit.
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Submitted by: Mike Tavis