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20th of August 2020, Blog #512

A Fairchild Industries SA226-T 'Merlin' operated a private flight from the aerodrome of Bankstown to Mudgee Airport, both in New South Wales, Australia. It arrived at Mudgee at 09.00 lt (local time) on the 19th of August 2020. After departing Mudgee at 11.30 lt a intermediate stop at Dubbo City Regional Airport the aircraft arrived at Gunnedah Airport at 15,50 lt. The pilot noticed a rough spot on the runway at Gunnedah while taxing to the ramp. The aircraft was shutdown and parked for the night.

The aircraft after coming to a stop (© ATSB)

During the day of the 19th of August (at 10.47 lt) a NOTAM was published informing aircrew of the closure of Gunnedah Airport on the 20th of August 2020, from 07.00 to 15.00 lt, for emergency repairs to the runway. (NOTAM: A notice distributed by means of telecommunication containing information concerning the establishment, condition or change in any aeronautical facility, service, procedure or hazard, the timely knowledge of which is essential to personnel concerned with flight operations.) The next day, around 12.25 lt the pilot of the Merlin contacted Brisbane Centre ATC, that he was taxing at Gunnedah for departure. Upon receiving the transmission the ATC controller remembered a NOTAM regarding the airport closure at Gunnedah. After dubbelchecking there was indeed such a NOTAM ATC attempt to contact the aircraft but was unable to establish contact.

The excavated holes in the runway (Source; airport operator)

At ~12.30 lt the pilot of the Merlin had taxied passed the worksite on runway 29 and commenced take-off after observing patches on the pavement in the distance, As the aircraft accelerated down the runway it became clear to the pilot that the patches he saw were actually holes excavated in the runway pavement, approximately 3 meters by 5 meters and 30 cm deep (10' by 17' and 1' feet. The pilot attempted to steer past the holes but was unable to clear the holes and the left main landing gear dropped in one of the holes, collapsing the left main landing gear. This caused the left propeller to strike the ground and the aircraft to veer to the left, coming to a stop off the runway. The pilot was not injured. The take-off incident was investigated by the Australian Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) and in their report, they concluded that;

  • The pilot had not checked relevant NOTAMs for the flight, including the one stating the airport was closed

  • The pilot did not see evidence of works in progress prior to entering the runway

  • A sign to indicate the runway was closed was only visible from the air

  • There were no signs indicating the runway was closed for aircraft at the airport, as required. (as the aircraft was closed, and based on outdated regulations staff was not aware this was required)

The aircraft after being recovered from the runway (source; © Kristiane Taylor)

The full ATSB report, on which this blog is based, is available for the readers' convenience, by clicking on the .PDF file below;

Merlin closed runway take off 20-Aug-2020
Download PDF • 1.45MB

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