Just 30 Meters and Seconds Away From Tragedy

One or two seconds were all that separated four pilots from crashing their plane during a recent advanced licensing exam, according to an incident report Haaretz obtained yesterday.

The report found that the Civil Aviation Authority pilot conducting the December 19 test "did not respond immediately" when one of the two pilots being tested panicked and abandoned the controls after losing the left wing of the Beechcraft King Air C90, allowing "critical time to pass until he recovered and took over the controls."

Furthermore, immediately after the near-crash, the aviation authority pilot served as the captain of an Arkia commercial flight from the Sde Dov airport to Eilat.

As a result of the report, which was written by Yitzhak Raz, the Transportation Ministry's chief investigator of aerial accidents, the tester underwent a hearing last week.

"The CAA tester was in some degree of shock in the wake of the traumatic incident, which did not wear off for many days," the report found. "The system - CAA and the airline - did not succeed in either treating him or providing support to help him recover. The decision of the CAA tester to continue with his plans after the serious incident and serve as captain on a passenger plane a short time later was mistaken and irresponsible, both for himself and for others."

The report also criticized the fourth pilot in the plane for flying the plane back to the Herzliya airport after landing briefly in Sde Dov. That pilot was the chief pilot of Chem-Nir, a specialized flying services and helicopter services company, which owned the plane and had trained the two people being tested.

"During that flight, all four pilots underwent a traumatic experience of losing control during a flight, in a situation where a fatal accident would have taken only one more second, maybe two," the report stated.

The report recommends practicing emergency procedures and defining guidelines for how to continue a testing flight after the pilots are forced to take over during a serious incident.

The incident occured at a training ground outside Hadera, after the first pilot being tested finished and switched seats with the second testee. The Chem-Nir chief pilot, who had trained both and was aboard the plane so he could fly it back to Herzliya Airport after the test, was sitting in the left-rear seat, where he could see the instrument panel. The second pilot being tested was told to come out of a stall, but he lost control - and the aircraft's left wing.

Shouting to the tester "You take it!" the pilot abandoned the controls of the plane at 2,200 feet (670 meters), and began losing altitude at a rate of 2,400 feet per minute. The aircraft began spinning down, turning over between two and four times. The tester gained control of the plane once it was between 1,600 feet (490 meters) and 1,000 feet (305 meters) above the ground, as the Chem-Nir chief pilot shouted instructions from the back seat. The plane was less than 100 feet (30 meters) above ground when the tester straightened the plane and climbed back up.

Despite the near-crash, the tester continued the test once the situation was stabilized, ordering the pilots being tested to switch seats. The testee said he didn't feel confident and was replaced by the chief pilot.

The tester flew to Sde Dov airport, and a brief inquiry was conducted at the landing strip. From there, the tester flew the Arkia plane to Eilat and the chief pilot flew to Herzliya with the two testees.