Lessons learned: Cessna 421 “The boss’s open door policy”

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Flying is an amalgamation of victories and defeats, thrills and chills.

Therefore let us not forget, “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

This fine Summer day dawned really beautifully. I had a trip for an owner of a C-421B from KDUC (Duncan, OK) to M25 (Mayfield, KY). We were under contract to manage the airplane, which was owned by a construction company. 
This trip was to take my passengers to Mayfield, KY and then the aircraft owner (non pilot) and I would go to Tullahoma, TN for the night. 
We dropped off 5 happy construction workers for their weekend off and saddled up for the relatively short hop to TN. The owner was in a hurry to get home too and with the CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) weather it didn’t take long to be underway. 
The 421 has an airstair arrangement on the left side of the fuselage behind the wing composed of a bottom (stair) and a top (window) that clamshells together.
As I was trained, I always closed and secured the door myself only this time, as the owner followed me into the airplane, he said he would get it. Normally I wouldn’t even consider having a passenger secure it, except he had owned the airplane for years. I assumed he was more than familiar with how it works – many of you are shaking your head right about now.
I started engines and taxied to the end of the relatively short runway. After a quick run-up, scan for traffic, and a radio call, we took the runway.
Power up, brake release, acceleration normal, and we roared down the runway. 
As soon as I rotated, I heard a loud pop and lots of air noise coming from the behind me, followed by the Owner yelling something unintelligible. 
It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. The top of the door was wide open. 
I should mention that the 421 is pressurized so the cabin pressure, combined with slip stream, is what opened the improperly latched door. 
I was mindful of my speed not wanting the top clam shell to impale itself into the horizontal stab. I also pulled the props back to keep the propwash at a minimum.
We stayed in the pattern and landed uneventfully. 
Total flight time: under 5 minutes!
The cause: The owner left the safety chain off the door handle. 
So there are a few valuable lessons to be learned here:
  • Never assume when it comes to flying. Trust but verify, as a former President said
  • Don’t let anyone, other than trained crew members accomplish safety sensitive functions
  • Don’t let the customer (or anyone) rush you
  • Keep cool when things are going wrong – this was the only part I got right. Doors have brought down lots of airplanes, mostly because of the distraction

As has been said many times, flying is amazing, but it’s also extremely unforgiving of mistakes.

Fly safe!

by Brent Owens                                                        

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