A 1969-built Cessna 310P was being prepared for a domestic VFR flight from Lydd Airport in Kent to the landing strip at Newbury Racecourse, Berkshire England. As part of the flight preparation, the pilot contacted Newbury Racecourse to obtain information about the runway and get the authority to land.
The aircraft fuselage after being stripped from useful parts at Rantoul Kansas USA, April 2013 (Source flickr.com © David)
After an uneventful flight, the aircraft. powered by 2 Continental IO-470-VO engines, arrived overhead Newbury and the pilot found that the wind was light with good visibility. However, a haze was observed which was being reduced by the sunlight. There was a broken layer of stratus clouds between 1200 and 1500 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). The pilot elected to overly the racecourse at 1000 feet AGL on a south-westerly heading and observed a long mown grass strip within the oval of the racecourse which he took as the runway. He flew a 180º turn and descended to a height of 500 and 700 feet AGL to once more fly over the racecourse. At this time the pilot observed the windsock indicating that the wind was calm.
He then set up the aircraft for landing and turned the aircraft to the left to fly a left-hand circuit to land the aircraft in an easterly direction on the grass strip. The approach and touchdown were normal and just after landing the pilot applied the brakes. Right after applying the brakes, the pilot observed a drainage ditch, 6 to 7 feet wide, which was overgrown with grass crossing his landing path. A go-around was initiated however the main landing gear hit the eastern edge of the ditch and was ripped off the aircraft. The aircraft settled on its belly and nose landing gear, sliding door 100 - 150 meters before coming to a rest. The pilot completed the emergency shutdown of the aircraft and attempted to evacuate the aircraft via the main cabin door. This was not possible as the distortion of the fuselage, caused by the impact forces, jammed the door. The pilot managed the leave the aircraft via the emergency window exit, he was not injured.
Newbury Racecourse with the diagonal drainage ditch still visible in this post-2020 (!) Google Earth image. (Source Google Earth)
An investigation launched was launched by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB). They interviewed the pilot and the management of the Newbury Racecourse. The racecourse management stated that the normal briefing for arriving pilots informs them to land on the strip marked near the railway line, adjacent to the windsock. This location is to the northeast and outside of the racetrack. The relocation of the runway to an area enclosed by the race track. A drainage ditch lay diagonally over the intended location of this new strip.
Plans were being drafted to build a culvert over the ditch. In preparation for viewing by the CAA to obtain advice on the suitability of the proposed new strip, the grass had been mown along its intended length. The active strip had not been mowed recently because of the slow rate of growth of the grass as a result of the dry summer weather. This led to the misidentification of the runway by the pilot. To avoid reoccurrence white crosses have been laid out at each end of the proposed new landing strip.
A Cessna 310 in flight, not the accident aircraft (source; www.planephd.com)
Damage to the aircraft was severe, with the main landing gear being torn off the aircraft and the fuselage suffering damage as a result of impact forces. The aircraft was written off as damaged beyond economic repair.
The AAIB report which served as the main information source for this blog can be accessed by clicking on the .pdf file below;