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MERCY DASH PILOT'S ICE FLIGHT HELL; Stricken plane just feet from tragedy.

AN air ambulance almost crashed after icing up over Scottish mountains.

The near-tragedy was revealed yesterday, just one day after five people died when an air ambulance crashed into the River Mersey.

The pilot of the twin-engine Islander plane involved in the Scots incident had to fight to keep the plane in the air as he flew close to Ben Nevis.

In just minutes, the plane's speed dropped from 130mph to just 80mph, only around 10mph above the speed at which it would stall and go out of control.

Even though the pilot put the aircraft into a shallow dive with the engines on full power, he could not increase the speed.

The plane was flying a casualty with an injured leg from Glasgow to Stornoway when the incident happened. A paramedic was also on board.

The pilot, a 45-year-old man, was highly experienced but had only been flying the Islander for a short time.

With the plane being buffetted by turbulence and severe down draughts, the pilot declared an emergency and air traffic controllers guided him into clear air, where the ice which had gathered on the undercarriage melted.

He ended up at 4200ft - 2500ft below his minimum safety altitude and just a few hundred feet above the nearest peaks.

Yesterday, air industry sources said the three were lucky to survive the drama, which happened in March and emerged yesterday in an official report by the Air Accident Investigations Branch.

Aircraft owners Loganair have now warned all their pilots to go round high ground if icing is likely.

As well as dramatically increasing the weight of the aircraft, icing can also interfere with vital controls.

The Islander is prone to severe icing because ice can easily gather on its large undercarriage, which is fixed in position under the wings.

The report says: "The pilot noticed a sudden build-up of ice on the wheels, struts and tyres. He was unable to maintain altitude and requested radar vectors to a clear area. The controller suggested he turn west, towards the coast, which was estimated eight miles away.

"The pilot then declared an emergency. He allowed the speed to reduce to 70knots (80mph) and then entered a descent at that speed; the engines remained at full power.

"Three miles prior to reaching the coast at an altitude of 4200ft the aircraft entered clear air and the ice melted rapidly."

One expert said: ""The aircraft was flying probably only five or ten knots above the speed it would have stalled and it is very unlikely the pilot would have had enough time to regain control."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 16, 2000
Words:432
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