White Island... almost

I was rather doubtful about this club trip going ahead due to a lot of moisture in the upper atmosphere around the Bay of Plenty, but below 4000 feet we had 35 kilometers visibility. A total of 8 aircraft (both Archers, both 172’s, the twin Comanche, one Alpha, Phil’s 182RG and someone’s homebuilt) were to make the trip. After a mixup with the seating schedule we took off 4 up and JGP’s ability to climb at MAUW surprised me as I was able to set a nose attitude for 80 knots and we climbed at an indicated 700 feet per minute.

Looking ahead I saw what looked to be a fairly thick layer of cloud and made the decision to fly under it. Climbing to 3500 feet would give us ample terrain separation, but the south easterly blowing at 25 knots would give us some chop, especially over the Kaimai ranges. We hit a few downdrafts but it wasn’t anything too major, it just wasn’t pleasant. My mistake in hindsight is that at that point I should have called up Christchurch control and climbed into controlled airspace where the air was smoother.

I chose to head out towards the coast hoping that things would smooth out a bit and they did, but not too much. I was listening in on the inter aircraft frequency and it was fairly quiet. When we were about 10 miles out from Whakatane (our initial landing point) the Whakatane frequency burst into life. I deliberately stayed high to give us the best visibility of aircraft possibly overtaking us but at about 6 miles started our descent straight into runway 09.

I saw WAM descend in front of us at about 2 miles so settled in and followed them at a safe distance. It was when we were at short finals that one of my passengers was sick in the back seat. He had not flown in a light plane before and had only just started to feel ill when I slowed the plane up. Ironically the ride smoothed out tremendously when I did this. I guess it was the heat build up in the small cabin.

That added to my stress levels but I stated to my passengers that I was going to land. I then bent my concentration to the landing. We had a slight crosswind that died somewhat as we rounded out. I still lowered a wing into the wind but didn’t add enough rudder and we came down at an awkward angle. We bounced once and I managed to straighten JGP before the mains touched down again and held the nose wheel off as we slowed. I then opened the throttle to taxi to get to the taxiway and we picked up a nose wheel shimmy. I lifted the nose and replaced it on the ground and got us off the runway where I found a spot on the apron to park and shut down.

I climbed out and helped out passenger out of his seat with Chris’s help. We then set about cleaning the plane up as best we could. Chris was to fly the next leg to White Island but voiced concern about flying there with an aircraft smelling of vomit. I concurred so we let everyone know we were going to stay at Whakatane and let the aircraft air out as best it could.

Once the other planes returned from White Island we swapped passengers with another aircraft so the guy wouldn’t have to fly in JGP and Chris flew us back via controlled airspace at 5500. We still picked up a bit of chop on the descent through 4500 but it wasn’t nearly as bad as before. The setting sun made detecting the aircraft ahead of us difficult and we were cleared into the Hamilton circuit number 4 behind the other returning aircraft. Chris requested the tarmac runway 18 for landing and we were given it. Then it was back to the club. I was given some magic chemical cleaner which did a fantastic job of removing the smell and I cleaned JGP up to the best of my ability before tying it down and putting the cover on it, as Chris had to run inside and tend the bar.

Not my finest hour in flying, but many important lessons learned. Pics that I took on the ground at Whakatane to follow soon.


Rodney said…

This proves a theory I've had for a while [note the large toungue in my cheek!].

Passengers will always vomit on final approach :-)

Not on takeoff, crosswind, base or caught in wild turbulance on a nasty day... if they are going to chuck, it will be on final approach.

Happenned while I was flying once also :-) In my case it was an 8 year old kid and it was a brand new [3 months old] aircraft... it sat on the apron for 4 days afterwards!
Oshawapilot said…
I always include the following in my passenger brief before the flight;

"If you are feeling ill and think you may be getting sick please swallow your pride and tell me early - I'd rather have 5 minutes notice then be 5 seconds too late".

Chris Nielsen said…
Yeah, that really sucked that the guy didn't help clean the plane out! I would have thought it would be the least he could have done after making us miss going to white island!
Evan said…
I flew him home in WAM (we went straight to 4500 and had a smooooth trip).
He told me that he tried to communicate that he was feeling sick but either his headset wasn't plugged in or wasn't working and no-one could hear him.
I felt sorry for you guys missing the trip out to the island. Perfect excuse for you to go back another time and try again...
Euan Kilgour said…
Rodney, in my rather limited flying experience, some things spring to mind with respect to being sick while flying.

- People tend to vomit on finals
- Turbulence is a major causal factor
- Lots of turns are a major causal factor
- Passengers almost never give you any warning when they are about to vomit
- The standard airsickness bags carried on GA aircraft tend to be too fiddly to open when you are about to be sick.