Catalina accident could have been 'resolved': AAIB report
A photo from the AAIB report showing the Catalina and the moored yacht.
An official report into the accident involving a Catalina Flying Boat during the Fermanagh Seaplane Festival on Lower Lough Erne last September, says it could have been resolved during the pilot's briefing held earlier in the day.
The French-owned Catalina, manufactured in 1943 and which served with the Royal Canadian Air Force, damaged a right elevator when it drifted back into a moored yacht after shutting down its engines on landing during the morning of the Festival at Gublusk Bay.
The report from the Air Accident Investigations Branch concluded, "The accident was as a result of different expectations, by the Catalina crew and the marshal boat crews on how the aircraft was to moor up following landing. This could have been resolved during the pilot's brief, held on the morning of the event."
The report recounted how eight aircraft took part in this event, five float planes, a Twin Seabee and two Catalina flying boats.
The report said that that UK Civilian Aviation Authority were content that the event as advertised did not constitute "an airshow" and no permission was required for the organisers to hold the event.
While safety briefings had been held for others during the Thursday before the Festival, the French owned Catalina flew from France and arrived at St.Angelo Airport on the Friday afternoon before the weekend Festival. It had been returned to an airworthy condition following extensive restoration.
The report said that the aircraft had not been operated on the water for more than 10 years and with the exception of the Dutch commander, the crew had limited experience of water operations.
A pilot's brief was held for all participants at 8am on the Saturday morning covering weather, ramp procedures, refuelling and any other business.
However the report continues, "Specific details on how the Catalina was to moor up were not covered during this brief. The participants were reminded that the boat crews had received training on the aircraft that were expected at the event throughout the day. The intention for the two Catalinas was for N9767(French owned) to take up its mooring on the water for 10.30hours and one hour later the UK registered Catalina would take up its mooring nearby. After the briefing N9767's commander completed a familiarisation trip on a marshal boat with the Chief Marshal around the area the Catalinas would be operating. It was agreed that one of the Catalina's French ground crew would accompany the Chief Marshal on his marshal boat during the event. During the familiarisation trip the commander was shown the location of the mooring buoy, upwind access, departure routes and potential hazards but the need for a tug boat to tow the Catalina to the mooring or how the Catalina was to be tied to the mooring was not discussed. N9767 was unable to make its planned mooring time and so it was planned for it to arrive at the event about half an hour after the UK registered Catalina.
"After briefings and discussions, the marshal boat crews expected that N9767 would taxi to the mooring buoy, in a similar manner to the UK registered Catalina and that the French ground crewman would then assist the aircraft crew in securing the aircraft to the mooring. However N9767's crew thought it was understood that they would shut down in the area of the moorings and be towed to the mooring buoy by the marshal boats.
"N9767 was airborne shortly before 1200 hours with seven persons on board: a crew of three, three journalists and in the co-pilot's seat, a war veteran with over 1200 hours as a commander of Catalinas. The aircraft performed a flypast of the festival followed by a touch-and-go. The aircraft then landed again on the water and taxied into Gublusk Bay towards the mooring buoy. When the Dutch commander could see small boats in his vicinity, he turned his aircraft into wind and shut down to await the tug crews to tow the aircraft to the mooring buoy.
"The marshal boat crews, the crew of the other Catalinas, and many other witnesses were surprised to see the engines on N9767 shut down and they assumed it must have a problem. The Chief Marshal with N9767's ground crewman were the first on the scene and after a brief conversation they attempted to attach a line to N9767. The French ground crewman spoke limited English and the Chief Marshal could not speak French. Communications between the French ground crewman and the aircraft crew were predominately in French. Eventually a line was attached but as they tried to take N9767 under tow, the line fell into the water and became tangled in the boat's propeller. The ground crewman then tried to prevent the boat from becoming separated from the Catalina and ended up falling into the water. Another marshal boat arrived on scene and went to the aid of the ground crewman in the water but its propeller also became tangled in the line rendering the boat helpless. A third marshal boat arrived but it was unable to prevent N9767 from drifting towards a moored yacht. Because of the proximity of small boats, N9767 was unable to restart its engines and so it continued to drift backwards into the moored yachts, damaging its right elevator."
The report states that video and photographic evidence showed the French Catalina entering Gublusk Bay and at about 100m from its intended mooring point, it turned into wind, shutting down its engines.
"At this point, there was a small rib in the vicinity of the Catalina but this was not one of the dedicated marshal boats. Approximately one minute after the engines on N9767 were shut down the first marshal boat had arrived, and 15 seconds later the front hatch on the Catalina opened and the co-pilot began to communicate with the crew of the first marshal boat. Two minutes and thirty seconds later the Catalina's elevator made contact with the moored yacht," the report concluded.
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 12 Apr 12