Do You Know Where That CB Is? Your Life Depends On It!
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
There have been several fatal accidents in which the pilot could not identify and pull a circuit breaker (autopilot) during an abnormal or emergency situation. Aside from the risk of fire, the FAA has also identified another risk of resetting a circuit breaker in flight.
Following are some examples from SAFO 18014 (10/25/18) from Flight Standards.
June 4, 2007 - Lake Michigan
On June 4, 2007, a Cessna Citation 550, N550BP, impacted Lake Michigan shortly after departure from General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, WI. The two pilots and four passengers were killed, and the airplane was destroyed. The NTSB determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be the pilots' mismanagement of an abnormal flight control situation through improper actions. Shortly after departure, the flight reported a control problem and initiated an emergency return. The pilots believed they had a runaway trim condition. Nine seconds prior to impact, the captain stated he was trying to pull the circuit breakers (autopilot).
December 2, 2018 - Dawsonville, GA
On December 2, 2013, a Piper PA-46-310P, N87NF, was destroyed following an inflight breakup and impact with terrain in a heavily wooded area near Dawsonville, GA. The NTSB determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be the pilot's inflight loss of airplane control due to spatial disorientation. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's distraction by the reported malfunction of the autopilot system. The NTSB concluded the pilot should have been able to disable the autopilot if it was experiencing a problem and then continue to fly the airplane manually; however, given the available data and his conversation with the controller, it is likely that the pilot became focused on the autopilot system and diagnosing the reported problem.
November 20, 2015 - Clear Lake, Orlando, FL
On November 20, 2015, a Beech A36TC, N7FG, descended into Clear Lake, Orlando, FL. The private pilot and the passenger were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. During the flight, while the airplane was flying at 1700 feet MSL, the pilot advised the controller that "for some reason" he could not get the airplane's autopilot to disengage. After the pilot's request for assistance, the pilot of another airplane said, "pull your circuit breaker." The accident pilot was confused and said that he was "relatively new" to the airplane.
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