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On May 24, 1996, at 1438 Alaska daylight time, a retractable gear, wheel equipped Piper PA-31-350 Navajo airplane, N4109E, registered to and operated by Cape Smythe Air Service of Barrow, Alaska, sustained substantial damage during an off airport emergency landing near Point Hope, Alaska. The scheduled air taxi flight, operating under 14 CFR Part 135, had just departed the Point Hope airport, and the destination was Wainwright, Alaska. A visual flight rules flight plan was in effect and visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The certificated airline transport pilot and one passenger were seriously injured, two passengers received minor injuries, and two passengers were not injured.
During a telephone conversation with the pilot on May 28, 1996, she stated that the station agent at Point Hope had loaded some boxes into the airplane's nose baggage compartment, and closed the baggage door. She said that she visually checked the latch handle while she was standing on the wing, prior to entering the cockpit. The takeoff run was normal until she raised the nose of the airplane for liftoff. The nose baggage door opened and boxes and baggage began departing the compartment and falling through the left engine's propeller. The pilot attempted to return to Point Hope. She stated she was not able to maintain altitude or airspeed and she elected to land on the sea ice. The airplane began to roll to the left just prior to touchdown on the sea ice, and landed "hard" on the ice.
The nose baggage door was recovered and examined. The latches and hinge mechanisms were found to be fully functional. The latch assembly was equipped with two safety devices. One device was a bar that slid over the latch handle. The other safety device was a black knob which took the place of the key lock. The black knob is supposed to point horizontally when it locks the latch handle in place.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest on the sea ice, approximately .4 miles off the coast of Point Hope on a magnetic bearing from Point Hope of 300 degrees. The wreckage could not be examined because the sea ice broke apart and the airplane sank into the ocean. The wreckage has not been recovered.
The pilot stated she felt the left engine stopped producing power after the baggage from the nose compartment traveled through the left engine's propeller. She did not feather the engine prior to landing. Just prior to landing the airplane began an uncontrolled slow roll to the left.
During an interview with the pilot, she stated that she was trained on how to operate the nose baggage door. She also stated that idle conversation in the hallway among the pilots during training indicated that most pilots believed the Navajo PA-31 airplane would not fly with the nose baggage door open. She stated this information was not covered in training.
According to a passenger, Mr. John Tidwell of Barrow, Alaska, the nose baggage door came open and boxes started falling out. The pilot banked the airplane to the left and a large duffel bag fell out and hit the propeller. Mr. Tidwell described the propeller as destroyed after the duffel bag struck the propeller. The airplane continued in a left turn and crashed onto the sea ice. Mr. Tidwell stated that prior to takeoff, the pilot was loading the airplane while the station agent loaded the nose baggage compartment. He heard the pilot ask the station agent if he had closed the "left front hatch." The station agent replied in the affirmative. Mr. Tidwell said the pilot never went up to the "left front hatch" to check its security.
According to the pilot, the company procedure does not state how the pilot should check to ensure the nose baggage door is secure. She stated she stood on the wing and viewed the latch handle and black knob and they both appeared to be in their correct position.