ATSB Releases Preliminary Westwind Ditching Report

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a preliminary report on a Westwind 1124A jet that successfully made a nighttime poor weather ditching in the ocean three nautical miles west of Norfolk Island, some 900 miles east of Brisbane, Australia. The jet was operating IFR as an aeromedical flight with one patient and five others aboard -- all survived 90 minutes in the water before rescue. The intended route would have taken the jet from Apia, Samoa, to Melbourne, with a fuel stop at Norfolk Island. En route, the flight experienced increasing headwinds and reports of deteriorating conditions at Norfolk. About 20 minutes out, Norfolk UNICOM provided a weather report indicating that conditions had deteriorated "well below the landing minima," according to the ATSB. The crew attempted four VOR/DME instrument approaches, before committing to the ditching. After transmitting their intentions to Norfolk UNICOM, the crew put the airplane in the water and all escaped -- without the life rafts -- as the jet quickly sank.

The pilot in command had selected full flap extension for the ditching and slowed the aircraft to 100 knots. He switched the landing lights on and watched the radio altimeter to time his flare. Neither the pilot nor his copilot saw the water before impact. The occupants reported two or three strong impacts (more violent at the rear of the aircraft). The aircraft's main door was damaged during the ditching and the aircraft immediately took on water. The PIC opened the port emergency exit, through which water poured in as he exited. All other occupants exited through that and other available exits. The doctor, flight nurse and one passenger were the only passengers who exited the aircraft wearing life preservers. The passenger believed that he swam upwards for some distance before reaching the surface. All were rescued after a rescuer on the island spotted a light in the ocean. Read the full report, online.