The Plane Truth
This is the story of Capt Rod Lovell and the successful ditching of DC-3, VH-EDC into Botany Bay (Sydney, Australia) on 24th April 1994.

   Home      Rod's life PD (Pre Ditching)

CHAPTER TWO - Training

All the ditching practices I carried out in the RAAF as a pilot on Orion aircraft came flooding back. On most trips when I was captain and the workload deemed it suitable, I would instigate a practise ditching. This I would do by calling over the public address system on the Orion, "Practice, Practice, Practice, ditching in 90 seconds!" With this the whole crew (normally around 12-13 crewmembers) would prepare for the practice ditching. Up in the cockpit, we would simulate the sea level at an arbitrary figure of say 2,000 feet. This way we would configure the aircraft in the proper configuration of landing gear retracted, Full flaps, heading and speed. This training was invaluable, and it's a pity it is not practiced by others in the aviation fraternity.

I consider myself extremely fortunate in the fact that I have received what I believe to be the best training in the world. I commenced flying training with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 80 Pilots Course in January 1971. I made my first solo flight in Winjeel A85-403, on 17th March '71 and was subsequently posted to No 2 FTS at RAAF Pearce, flying Macchi aircraft in early April of '71. On the 3rd March '72 I passed my RAAF Wings Test and was awarded the National Mutual Trophy "for the student who has shown the most improvement on No. 80 Pilots Course." My RAAF number changed from A46271 to O46271. This simple prefix change referred to a change from the rank of Airman to Officer. My DC-3 training was conducted by Capt Terry Blyth, then Chief Pilot for IPEC aviation (12,000 flying hours of the 20,000 he has logged were accrued on DC-3 aircraft). In a reference he wrote for me, he stated;

"During 40 years of active Transport Flying in Civil Aviation, I recall only a few people who impressed me as having outstanding qualities as pilots. Rod Lovell is one of those people.

I have on many occasions had the opportunity of observing Rod's professional aptitude to

his flying on DC3, Argosy, and DC9 type aircraft.

As stated above, I have crewed DC3 type aircraft with Rod on many occasions and I would

argue to the end with anyone's idea of his inability to operate such aircraft."

I have also been trained and accredited by IPEC Aviation on Argosy and DC-9, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) DC-9. These were comments written by Captain Frank McIntyre. (ex TAA) when DC-9 simulator assessing me;

3/12/90, "Intensive period covering Base Check Ex, Abnormal circuits, Emergency descent, Windshear, and locator approach all completed to an above average standard."

5/12/90, "All of F/O Lovell's periods have been of an above average standard and this was no exception. A good demonstration of how the simulator should be flown."


The following are some extracts from my various Training Notes;

15/12/89; B747 simulator whilst undergoing simulator instructor (pilot) training, LHS;

"Considering the appalling state of this simulator (not Qantas's) the exercise was flown to a high standard with very good management & awareness. Procedures very good 3 eng ILS very accurately flown."

For this simulator exercise, I was awarded a rating of 4 (High Standard) by Senior Check Captain Geoff Jones, and is the highest rating Qantas awards to an exercise.

Professional pilots are not paid for the easy, uneventful trips, but for the demanding skills required to deal with emergencies and the unusual. That is when a professional pilot earns his money.

Unfortunately, not all incidents/accidents are without fatalities. On 25 Sep 1996, The Dutch Dakota association DC-3 crashed in the Wadden Sea about 35 miles north of the Dutch capital, killing all 32 POB. It suffered an engine failure whilst cruising at about 1,000 feet.

Sadly, on 11 Jun 93, Monarch Piper Chieftain VH-NDU, crashed with the loss of all 7 people on board, at Young, NSW. That very same evening, Geoff Jones and I crewed 'EDC into Parkes. The conditions at Parkes were very similar to those at Young. However, we in an old DC-3, carried out a monitored instrument approach, with a circling approach, using monitored approach procedures. Nothing unsafe at all, and we landed safely.

CHAPTER THREE - Flight Preparation

The amount of planning and preparation that went into this trip was probably more than I had done before for any trip. I tried to cover every facet of the operation. I think it was on the Wednesday previous that Andrew Buxton, the F/O going along for the experience, came to our house and we spent the whole afternoon going through flight planning, fuel requirements, weight and balance, approvals, and many other facets to be covered for this type of overwater charter flight and the many other facets in this sort of trip. As this was to be an international flight, the relevant government department was notified of the intended schedule. Customs and refuellers at Lord Howe Is and Norfolk Is were notified and prior permission to park an aircraft overnight was gained for Norfolk Is. Single-engine fuel was planned to be carried on each sector (430 imperial gallons). This is the fuel required to be carried in the event of an engine failure enroute. An aircraft like a DC-3 requires more fuel in this situation as it flies a lot slower on one engine than two.

Andrew in his report confirmed that we discussed fuel calculations, including single-engine fuel requirements, weight and balance calculations, take-off and landing charts, and what visual expectations at the islands, customs requirements, and departure times so that last light would not be a problem if required to return to Lord Howe Is, where they do not have runway lights.

A few days prior to the accident, Kevin Wiles of TNT Air Charter (the hirer of the aircraft) faxed me with a list of passenger names and dates of birth. Twenty-one passengers. From this, I could ascertain their weights using the approved figures in the Operations Manual (Civil Aviation Advisory Publication [CAAP] figures). I had worked out my figures on the approved weights and the fact that the passengers were going away for only two nights. Kevin later phoned me at home to say that there was now only 20 passengers. At some stage, he did say something about band equipment. I started to compile the Load Sheet either on the Friday or Saturday.

When compiling the load sheet I was not aware of;

1) the fact that there would be a total of 5 life rafts (for 24 POB)

2) Mrs Saunders would be on board, in fact at the time of the accident (and the day after) I believed the total POB was 24. I still don't know who or when she was put on the pax list. Nobody notified me.

3) the amount of aircraft spares or oil placed on board. Although from experience, I should have realised some would have been carried.

4) the amount of carry on baggage

a) When the load sheet was compiled, the aircraft was 127 kg UNDER MTOW

b) Then 1 passenger less so 127 plus 84 equals 211 kg UNDER MTOW

I had allowed 350 kg in forward locker for baggage etc.

c) Taxi allowance for fuel is 7 imperial gallons or 23 kg. That morning, after refuelling;

1) the aircraft was started, warmed up, engine run up carried out and shutdown.

2) the aircraft was started, taxied to Hawker Pacific and shutdown.

3) the aircraft was started, taxied, held and then cleared for takeoff.

therefore, fuel usage was far in excess of 7 imp gall or 23 kg.

One of the reasons the CAA gave for suspending my pilots licence (and I will cover this in much depth later in the book) was the fact that the aircraft may have exceeded the Maximum Take-off Weight (MTOW). No captain of a civil aircraft operating in Australia, knows the exact weight of his or her aircraft at take-off. It is all "guesstimates", based upon many assumptions and calculations. Next time you are at an airport, observe the passengers, and see how much they carry onto the aircraft as "carry-on-baggage". Most airlines allow in the region of 4 kg of carry on baggage in their calculations for the aircraft take-off weight. Often however, the passenger's struggle to lift their bags into overhead lockers. In the Civil Aviation Safety Authority's Quarterly Journal (Autumn 1997) they say in the article Excess Baggage (page 29);

"On a B-747, an extra 10 kg per passenger can mean 4,000 kg on top of the calculated load. As well as an overloaded aircraft and increased fuel costs, the precise weight of the plane will not be known and the take-off performance could be affected."

And yet both the CAA and BASI spent and incredible amount of time and effort trying to nail me down to the very last kilogram in their concerted attempts to persecute me.

On the day prior to the accident, Saturday 23rd April, the flight attendant Annabel, my wife (who is also a professional pilot and contributed to our discussion) and myself, spent about 3 hours at the aircraft which was positioned on the grass Eastern Park at Mascot Airport, going over safety equipment, ditching procedures, survival at sea etc including the use of lifejackets, the probable ditching damage to the aircraft, liferaft launching, passenger and crew evacuation from the aircraft, cabin and aircraft equipment to taken in the liferafts, discipline in the liferafts, keeping the liferafts together and use of ELB. In fact I had quite a long computer printout of most of these subjects which I gave to Annabel. This included material extracted from the Emergency, Forced Landing/Ditching, and Survival section of the Jeppesen manual.

This was done on our own initiative, as we were all current for safety procedures as required by the CAO's.

That evening I contacted the aircraft owner/co-pilot to advise him that the required number of life rafts and life jackets were not on board. He assured me that they would be on the Sunday morning.

24th April 1994; The day was a beautiful day. Wing Commanders weather. All preflight planning was completed at home. Weather and Notams were obtained and international flight plans were lodged. My wife drove Andrew Buxton and I to the aircraft. We arrived at the aircraft at 0730 LT. Andrew was accompanying the crew to gain experience in remote island operations. First Officer Nick Leach was the operating crew member. When we arrived at the aircraft Nick had already commenced pre-flight duties. I inspected the safety equipment on board whilst Nick carried out the pre-start procedures and checks, started the engines and conducted the engine run-up check.

At 0830 LT I taxied the aircraft to Hawker Pacific's apron. The baggage was loaded by my wife, Andrew and myself and the passenger manifest was completed by the ground agent. The aircraft Load and Trim sheet had already been completed because TNT Air Charter had faxed to me a couple of days prior the passengers names and dates of birth and so from our Operations Manual, I could work out their approved weights under the CAAP's (Civil Aviation Advisory Publication No: 235-1(1), dated Sept 1990), Standard Passenger and Baggage Weights. I occupied the left hand seat, Nick the right hand seat, the passengers were loaded, Andrew removed the landing gear pins, climbed on board, and closed the main cabin door.