Ditched Lynx - Al Bundy

"Torque-Split, Call NR" - Dirk Schindler

Unlike other ditching incidents my experience, with subsequent qualification to our exclusive club, was based on human error with no defect at all on the helicopter.

In December 1993, I was part of the flight crew with 2 Westland Sea Lynx helicopters plus flight crew and technical personnel, on the German frigate FGS „Bremen“ taking part in a naval fleet exercise visiting Puerto Rico and South American Countries  This explains how and why a German helicopter pilot ditches a British Sea Lynx about 150 NM from the Brazilian coast into the Atlantic.

It had been one of my first flights after finishing my tactical flight training having been awarded the LCR (Limited Combat Ready) status only a matter of two weeks before.

My flight commander (standing in the right hand front door in the picture, left) decided to use available flying time to practice handling of emergencies, taking the chance for me to improve my flying skills out of the left-hand seat. Usually all flying is done from the pilot in the right-hand seat, whereas the left-hand seat pilot is responsible for navigation, communication, sensors and tactics.

Although I knew all emergency procedures and the associated control inputs from the right-hand seat, from my training, with totally different references from the left hand seat the flying felt odd.

After practicing some minor emergencies, we went on with the execution of single engine failures.

After safe recovery from a first single engine failure exercise from the backboard side of FGS “Bremen”, we had a short briefing whilst on the flight deck and advancing the reduced engine No. 2 back to full power.

I heard my flight commander say: “The next take-off will be to the starboard side of the ship and at some point in time I will simulate an engine failure by retarding the ECL (Engine Control Lever).

We performed the before take-off checks and I lifted our Lynx into a hover above the flight deck, when cleared by my flight commander and the flight deck officer I accelerated to the starboard side of the frigate.

We just passed the flight deck and were at about 35 ft above the sea, when the flight commander retarded ECL No. 2 with the words “for exercise”.

A smooth movement would have been to continue the flight path of the helicopter, calling out “Torque-Split – Call Nr”, converting height into speed to execute a single engine fly-away manoeuvre.

The philosophy had been, in situations like this, not to leave the vicinity of the ship. Hence, I stopped the movement of the helicopter to the right, called out “Torque-Split – Landing” and started to return to the flight deck.

When approaching the ship, I felt uncomfortable because we were very low. Fearing that the ships movement with the sea swell could lead to an uncontrolled hit at the edge of the flight deck, I started to pull the collective stick upwards.

The result was not as I expected. Instead of a climb, the helicopter started to turn right around the vertical axis. Even pushing full rudder with my left foot did not stop the right turn.

After we turned about 40° degrees to the right, I said “I am at full left pedal!”. The uncontrolled turn continued. At 90° degrees with our tail rotor now somewhere over the flight deck, I now shouted “I am at full left!”.

Shortly after that the audio warning for Low Rotor RPM came on in the cockpit and was so loud it made communication impossible.  At 78% main rotor RPM, both alternators fail with the loss of stabilisation functions.

I trimmed a few degrees nose down, starting an attempt to gain forward speed, hoping to be able to stabilise the flight.

Next moment I felt the force of the flight commander at the controls. I understood – he will take over! I thought, maybe he understood my idea and will continue the fly-away procedure.

I took my hands off the controls and cancelled the audio warning which was getting on my nerves. Looking out of the window I saw us with the tail pointing towards the hangar, drifting uncontrolled over the flight deck and coming very close to the hangar wall.

I thought "all right, that’s it now".  I don't know by how many centimetres or meters we missed the super structure of the ship, but instead of the expected big bang I noticed blue warm water (the sea temperature was about 26 degrees) underneath us.

I guess my flight commander felt the same ... warm, smooth, safe and calm water ... because he brought our Lynx to a controlled landing on the sea.

We bailed out and were safely rescued by the crew from our mother ship. Thank you very much for your quick and professional help on that day!!

Whilst I swam in the Atlantic using my life vest and our sensor operator used his life vest and the dinghy, our flight commander jumped directly from the helicopter nose into the rescue boat, how civilised!

All efforts to lift our Lynx (side number 8316, tactical call-sign “Al Bundy”) out of the sea failed and the helicopter sank about 5.5 hours after the ditching.

Later during the year, it was recognised that there were more accidents and damage caused by practicing single engine failures than has ever occurred as a result of real failures. Single engine failure exercise procedures were reconsidered and more detailed single engine performance calculations in the pre-flight briefing were introduced, instead.





I wonder whose decision it was to draw this mermaid on the nose of “Al Bundy”.

(All photographs from unknown source from FGS “Bremen” crew)


Goldfish Dirk Schindler