I was a newly rated 'BN2a' line pilot in August 2014, the Islander was an aircraft I had dreamed of flying ever since walking into Sefofane's office in Maun only six years earlier, where an epic shot of one hung on the wall. I was due to fly an OAT group of elderly Americans from Livingstone to Lufupa in Zambia. Track 012 magnetic, 192 nautical miles.... Approximately one hour and thirty six minutes at one twenty knots. The Islander was never the best range machine with two 265 horsepower carburetted Lycoming engines.... She could do about 3.5 hours with full main tanks, unless she had the auxiliary system which we didn't have.
One had to carefully monitor wind and the check ground speed often... especially on multiple leg sorties. This route would be a basic direct track to Lufupa in the Kafue National Park and then a dog leg around the Papa four military airspace to Lusaka. The other crew would fly her back to Lusaka, I was to overnight in Lufupa and take over on the C208B in the morning.
I was pre-flighting the Islander at Livingstone, this involved a walk on the wings of this majestic Britten Norman bush aircraft. You'd have to dip the fuel tanks to check the fuel, as the gauges had stopped working at some stage during the late seventies and therefore a wooden calibrated dipstick was required as well as a set of pliers to open the fuel caps.
Obviously with a sector of 01:36 on an aircraft with 3.5 hours endurance with another 150 mile sector to go, you would only go with full tanks. So no problem there. I could visibly see the avgas full to the neck of the fuel port hole. I tightened the caps on both port and starboard fuel ports back on with the pliers. As I was walking back to my usual position to climb down from the wing... A gust of wind blew the starboard door of the midsection fuselage closed.
Now normally I used to place the pliers and dip stick on the roof, before the point of climbing down from the wing, stepping down to the cabin floor.... Which allowed my head to be above the roof of the aircraft with full view of the leading edge of the wing which ran across the roof on the Islander. In that space and time I normally had the chance to grasp the pliers and wooden dip stick which I had laid on the roof, as I could not safely hold them and climb down (I'm not sure why, I'm sure a number of normal people could prove me wrong)
Now the wind had blown this islander door closed.... I was stranded on the roof, with no one nearby to open it for me, so I eased myself down for the jump between the right engine cowling and the roof, till I was low enough to jump. I had changed my procedure of getting down, and then had passengers being walked to the plane from the office, and my mind was suddenly busy. I briefed everyone and loaded the bags....
We got airborne at about half past one on a warm hazy afternoon. Tracked north at 5500 feet, and I enjoyed showing the American guests the Kafue River from the air in this legendary British Bush Aircraft. The flight was uneventful and the profile, included a step climb initially and a gradual decent into the overhead joining procedure, after viewing the windsock I commenced the circuit at Lufupa, and that day set up for a left hand downwind runway one three.
After landing we had a scheduled crew change, I would remain overnight in Lufupa and fly the caravan to Livingstone in the morning, while another colleague would fly the Islander back to Lusaka and enjoy his off days in town. During the crew change, the colleague asked me where the pliers and dipstick were. I looked under the pilot seat, where they were normally kept, and they weren't there. I started to scour every seat pocket and nook and cranny of the mechanical mosquito I had just flown.... Could not locate the apparatus... I then mentally replayed the events leading up to the flight, and reviewed when I last used the apparatus... And then it dawned on me! The wind blew the door shut, I'd jumped down and failed to take the dip stick and pliers off the roof! I was feeling terrible, but then the most unexpected revelation occurred... I climbed up to inspect if there was damage of sorts from the apparatus flying off.... And the pliers were still on the roof!!!!!! Initially no one believed me..... they had rested on the roof against the leading edge of the wing in 120 knot winds, for one hour and thirty six minutes, including a take-off, step climb, descent and landing, the wooden dipstick was light and obviously nowhere to be found.
I filed an incident that afternoon from the camp feeling like a first class jack-ass, but the moral of the story when you change procedure, is to slow down and use that checklist, to audit vital steps.
From that day on, I always did a roof scan before start-up, and the new dip stick which was calibrated afterwards at the hanger, with my name carved on it and those same pliers always stayed under the pilot's seat, otherwise I didn't go.
It's when the stress levels rise, that it's time to slow down and stick to sequence and method.