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Musketeers Do Not Float!

The photo shown is real. I know people who were there. The pilot told me the story first hand. It happened in July of 2003.
This 1969 Musketeer did not reach rotation speed. The grass runway was soft in a place that needed to be hard. It terminated at the ocean edge. The plane rose a few feet in ground effect but the four foot drop off negated the effect.

No one was hurt. The pilot was taking-off alone with a light fuel load. The runway had been successfully used by this plane and this pilot for two years. It was on his property and the grass had been cut and the runway inspected for use within the previous twelve hours. The airplane was completely submerged in salt water for about an hour. This included all the avionics and the new IFR certified GPS. Even though there was very little sheet metal damage, the airplane was totaled by the insurance company. This was due to the corrosive nature of saltwater. No remedy was available or tried.

The pilot describes the impact with the water as “moderate”, similar to getting hit in your car by a light truck going slowly. In this case the airplane did not flip forward. The left wing tip impacted first followed by the left front lower cowl. The most memorable part of crash was the volume of water, which covered the windshield. He says it was something like having a fire hose pointed at you. The process of getting out of the aircraft was quick as the placement of the door handle was familiar after 14 years of ownership.

The pilot says he stepped out on the wing. His feet were dry for a moment. Then his ankles were getting wet. In an effort to remove avionics he looked back in the cabin and saw the floorboards getting wet. Then the water rose to the bottom of the seats. (Actually, the plane was sinking). At the rate of perhaps 12 inches per minute the water covered the glareshield and stopped at the top of the cabin. The tide was coming in and the plane settled on the bottom in about eight feet of water. Only the tip of the verticle stabilizer and the rotating beacon were visible at high tide.

The pilot asked me to convey this message: This was a gentle water landing if such a thing can be described that way. The speed at impact was about seventy mph. The plane did not flip. It was not upside down. The pilot was not immediately wet or injured. No passengers had to be evacuated through the single door. The cabin did not go fully under water for perhaps two minutes. If circumstances were different there would have been a more serious outcome.

The lesson here, that this pilot preaches, is that a water landing is not an option under any circumstances. The plane will not float. Egress will not be easy with passengers who may be injured. Swimming after a crash will complicate the problems. There is not enough time to go find and don a floatation jacket. Better being rescued on dry land. People can come running over to help, not go in the other direction to get their boats.

I thank this pilot for telling me this story and letting me share it. He says he hopes others can learn that… “Musketeers do not float and a water landing is never an option!”

Tom Corcoran, Boston

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