Cessna 152 G-BNGD crashed on Barholm Hill near Gatehouse of Fleet on the 21st December 1997
The aircraft, which was owned by AV Aviation was leased to the flying club at Carlisle, who in turn had sub-leased it to Prestwick Flying Club, had been at Carlisle for maintenance work to be carried out following the failure of the rudder bar on the left hand side of the cockpit. Before this the electrically operated turn coordinator had been found to be unserviceable. The work on the rudder bar was completed on the 19th December 1997 but the turn coordinator had not been replaced at this time.
Phillip Williams had flown with another member of the Prestwick Flying Club in a Piper Cherokee during the morning of the 21st to Caernarfon to inspect an aircraft which the club was considering buying. After inspecting that aircraft they then flew onwards to Carlisle to collect G-BNGD, arriving later than planned at 15:20.
During the flight from Caernarfon Mr Williams and the other pilot had discussed which route to use for the flight from Carlisle to Prestwick. They intended, if weather allowed to follow the Nith valley from Dumfries towards Kilmarnock and then to Prestwick. If the weather was not sufficiently good their alternative was to fly along the coast to Stranraer and then northwards up the Ayrshire coast.
The pilot of the Cherokee left Carlisle first, at 15:38, and flew via the Nith valley, when he passed Cumnock he radioed Mr Williams to say that there was extensive cloud and turbulence in the area. Phillip Williams left Carlisle ten minutes after the Cherokee, and two minutes after sunset, based on the report of cloud and turbulence decided to fly along the Solway coast. While this route is longer it is an easier route to follow in poor visibility.
Twenty five minutes after leaving Carlisle he radioed the Scottish Information controller saying he was passing Burrow Head at 1,500ft and estimated that he would arrive at Prestwick at 17:00. Fifteen minutes later at 16:27 he contacted Scottish Information again to say that he had lost sight of the ground, was climbing to 4,000ft and turning towards the Turnberry VOR beacon. At this point he was asked by the controller where he was and the replay was near West Freugh.
Only two minutes later he again contacted Scottish Information saying that the aircraft had suffered a suction pump failure. This pump provided air for two of three gyro instruments, an attitude indicator and direction indicator, the third gyro instrument was the unserviceable turn coordinator. The controller transferred Mr Williams to the Prestwick Approach controller who could provide radar assistance, during the initial contact with the approach controller he repeated that the suction pump had failed and he was then uncertain of the aircraft’s position. The controller requested that he continue his climb to 4,500ft. At 16:34 Mr Williams reported that he was flying at an indicated 4,500ft and the controller located an intermittent radar contact 4 miles East of Wigtown, much further East than Mr Williams thought he was. At 16:36 a radio message that was only partly intelligible was heard by the controller, it included the word descending. Soon after the radar contact was lost and when further attempts to contact Mr Williams failed the aircraft was reported missing and a search operation started. During the early hours of the 22nd December the wreckage of the Cessna and Mr Williams’ body were found in the col between Barholm Hill and Ben John near Gatehouse of Fleet.
The aircraft had been recorded by radar as making a number of left hand orbits around the time that the ‘descending’ radio message was heard. The AAIB found that the aircraft had impacted in a steep turn with a high rate of descent. Without the aid of any gyro instruments it would have been “virtually impossible” to fly the aircraft safely at night and in poor weather.
The cause of the failure was not determined due to the destruction of the forward fuselage but it was thought that the hose attached to the pump had become loose and came off during the flight leading to the two gyro instruments it powered becoming useless.