In May, a Piper Navajo PA-31 crashed shortly after takeoff from Myrtle Beach. The pilot was ATP-rated and worked for American Airlines. He knew he was in trouble almost immediately after takeoff. He tried to return to the airport. He reached an altitude of about 1000 feet, then dropped 475 feet, then climbed 700 feet, then dropped off radar at 450 feet. The pilot was killed in the crash.
The NTSB now says the aircraft had just come out of an annual inspection. The control surfaces had been removed and repainted during the annual. It appears that the aircraft’s trim tabs were installed upside down and backward. That would make the aircraft largely uncontrollable. Once the aircraft was in the air and building speed, the more the pilot attempted to get the aircraft’s nose to point up, the more it would point down. And vice versa.
As unthinkable as the maintenance error would seem, it is not uncommon. Many aircraft have crashed after maintenance because aircraft trim mechanisms were installed incorrectly. The outcome is usually fatal. But below is the story of one that ended in a safe landing. It’s instructive from the perspective of both the pilot and the mechanic.
When you read about these accidents, you are sometimes left wondering why the pilot could not figure out that his controls were reversed and proceed accordingly. The pilot in the story below explains. Then the mechanic responsible for the misrigging explains how he had heard stories of crashes that resulted from a mechanic misrigging elevator trim tabs, and that he was sure he would never make such an unforgiveable mistake. And yet he did.