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Open Doors in Flight

Cool as Ice

The Embraer EMB 121 was in cruise flight at 7000 ft. near Araxá, Brazil, when the captain noticed a pressurization problem with the aircraft's door. He went back to check. As he was checking the door, it blew open, and a steel door anchor cable severed his left hand.

"Luckily, I managed to grab hold of a handle with my right hand. When the co pilot noticed that half my body was outside the plane, he made a sharp 45° turn to the right and I was hurled back inside."

The captain returned to the cockpit "to calm the co pilot down and help him land the plane safely." He convinced one of the passengers to put the hand on ice. Doctors subsequently reattached it.

Our cool captain is not alone in making an unscheduled exit. Several years ago, a King Air pilot was outside his aircraft when the co pilot landed. He was hanging on to the door anchor chain.

In Issue 1/94, the Aviation Safety Letter featured a story of a 1985 accident in which a PA 31 crashed 10 min after taking off. Analysis of the wreckage showed that the autopilot was engaged, the pilot's seat belt was undone, and both halves of the clamshell cabin doors were open prior to impact. The pilot was not on board. Damage indicated that the upper half had come open in flight. To secure the upper half, you must first open the lower half and then close it again after securing the upper half. It was suspected that the pilot had engaged the autopilot and then attempted to close the doors in flight, but was flung out of the aircraft when he opened the lower half of the door. He was never found.

The lesson is clear: unless you are wearing a parachute and planning to jump, stay away from open doors in flight. Fix the problem on the ground.

Originally Published: ASL 2/1997
Original Article: Cool as Ice