[Ref Flight International | 12-18 November 2019]
On 28 February 2018, a SmartLynx A320 (ES-SAN) did not respond to sidestick rotation commands as it accelerated for take-off, the plane is written off due to badly damage after touchdown at Tallinn. However, only minor injuries were suffered by those on board.
Estonian investigation authority OJK credits the crew with having followed the “golden rule” – aviate, navigate, communicate – during the accident. It says the safety pilot’s initiative, the quick turn-back and the decision to keep the engines running, enabled those in the cockpit to keep the jet under control and land without casualties.
Seven people were on board for the series of exercises: a student pilot in the first officer’s seat; an instructor in the captain’s seat; and a safety pilot and a civil aviation authority inspector in the jump-seats. Three other students were in the passenger cabin.
The student pilot in the first officer’s seat was carrying out his third touch-and go cycle, accelerating for take-off with the engines at full thrust. However, the aircraft failed to respond to a rotation command from the sidestick at about 130kt. The centralised aircraft monitor showed a left and right elevator fault, and warned of manual pitch-trim only. Although the aircraft became airborne at 152kt, the instructor found that there was no response in pitch from the sidestick.
When the aircraft reached a height of 19ft, it was 950m (3,120ft) from the far end of the runway. Its thrust levers were retarded to “idle”, the flap setting was reduced, and the captain ordered the landing-gear retracted. Loss of thrust meant that, after reaching 48ft, the aircraft started to descend and, with its landing gear still in transit, the A320 struck the runway – about 200m from the end – with its engine pods, damaging the powerplants substantially.
The impact caused the jet to pitch up and it started to climb away at 6,000ft/min (30m/s), pitched nearly 20° nose-up, with its right-hand engine on fire. From the jump-seat the safety pilot remarked that the aircraft needed “manual pitch-trim only”, and the crew began to control pitch, lowering the nose by turning the horizontal stabiliser’s pitch-trim wheel and selecting different engine thrust settings. The aircraft reached a maximum height of 1,590ft and entered a dive at nearly 26° nose down – reaching 7,200ft/min and descending to 596ft – before the instructor moved the thrust levers to a higher setting and trimmed the stabiliser nose-up.
Multiple warnings sounded in the cockpit, including the master alarm and several terrain-awareness cautions including “sink rate” and “pull up”. But the instructor managed to stabilise the A320 at about 1,200ft and 155kt, using sidestick roll input and a combination of trim and thrust to handle the pitch – despite the damage to the engines.
Having achieved relative stability at 1,300ft for about 30s – despite pitch varying between 8° nose down and 16° nose up – the crew declared an emergency and agreed to attempt a right turn for a visual approach back to the opposite-direction runway 26. The safety pilot took the first officer’s seat, with the student and the inspector retreating to the cabin.
Although the safety pilot suggested reducing power from the fire-hit right-hand engine, the instructor (Captain) chose instead to maintain thrust and keep the engine operating for as long as possible, given the deterioration in other flight controls. Unfortunately, after the right-hand engine shut down, the left-hand engine similarly failed – they lost both engines, the result of seizure from low oil pressure following impact damage to the accessory gearbox. Several electrical systems ceased to function and the ram-air turbine deployed automatically.
The aircraft glided towards the runway, touching down heavily about 150m before the threshold, bursting all of its tyres before coming to a halt close to the left edge of the runway.