February 13, 2023 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Piper PA-28-161 Pilot Suffers Inflight Fatal Heart Attack


A 57-year-old flying instructor — in a 1978 Piper PA-28-161 — held a Class 1 Medical and died inflight while at Blackpool Airport, Lancashire, with a qualified pilot.

The Piper pilot was able to land the aircraft safely. A post-mortem concluded that the instructor died from acute cardiac failure.

The CAA intends to review the circumstance of this incident to determine if anything can be learned and if any changes should be made to the current guidance.

The June 29, 2022, circumstances surrounding the Piper PA-28-161 occurrence did not fall within the definitions of an accident or serious incident as defined in ICAO Annex 13.

However, the Chief Inspector, in exercise of his powers under the Civil Aviation (Investigation of Air Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2018, initiated an investigation, treating the occurrence as an incident.

History of the flight

A qualified pilot had planned to fly G-BORL from Blackpool Airport to another airfield but when he arrived at the flying club and checked the latest wind, he decided the crosswind was above his personal limit to fly on his own. Still wanting to go flying so that he remained within the flying club’s recency requirements, the pilot asked an instructor if he would accompany him for a single circuit. The instructor agreed to fit in the circuit after he finished a trial lesson.

Following the trial lesson the instructor met the pilot in G-BORL and the pilot taxied the aircraft out to the runway.

The pilot recalled that during the taxi, they were talking normally. He recalled telling the instructor he would keep the aircraft into wind for the power checks and the instructor replying, “Looks good, there is nothing behind you.” The pilot did not recall the instructor saying anything else after this point.

The pilot recalled that shortly after takeoff from Runway 28, the instructor’s head rolled back. The pilot knew the instructor well and thought he was just pretending to take a nap while the pilot flew the circuit, so he did not think anything was wrong at this stage. He proceeded to fly the aircraft around the circuit.

As he turned onto the base leg, the instructor slumped over with his head resting on the pilot’s shoulder. The pilot still thought the instructor was just joking with him and continued to fly the approach. He landed normally on Runway 28 and started to taxi back to the apron. However, the instructor’s head was still resting on his shoulder and he was not responding, and the pilot realized something was wrong. He signaled to the airport fire crew, who happened to be working on the apron and came to assist. The fire crew and the air ambulance medical crew, who are based at the airport, attempted to revive the instructor but he remained unresponsive and they were unable to save him.

Read the rest of the AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Branch) report, including the post-mortem report and medical history.

Content credit: AAIB, “AAIB investigation to Piper PA-28-161, G-BORL.” AAIB Bulletin: 2/2023 G-BORL AAIB-28417.

Photo credit: Image by Sabrina Eickhoff from Pixabay.

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