Lucky Break With Exploding Fuel Tank.

Thanks to Marion Wightman

Cessna 402  Z-WRB had just come out of a C of A check.


Chief engineer, Mr Eric Churcher asked me to take the aircraft into D4 and do a test on it. On my pre-flight I could not drain the fuel from the right aux tank.  An engineer came and attended to that and I went off into D4.   All seemed fine and I transferred the plane to Harare main as it was an early take off the next day.  I was due to take the Canadian Ambassador and his son to Matputo.

The next day, I met the passengers and set off for Maputo.  all was well on that leg.  They went off into the city and I waited at the airport for them to return.  The ambassador said that they should be back around 14h00.  He needed to be back in Harare as he was one of the observers in the referendum I think it was, the next day.  We boarded WRB,  got start clearance, but the left engine wouldn’t start.  There was just this ticking noise, but nothing more.  I phoned Harare and spoke to Eric Churcher who said something about the  ‘shower of sparks’ and said that I should go and find an engineer who he could talk to.  So off I went into the terminal building, leaving the ambassador and his son in the plane.  One of the charter companies there said they would send an engineer to help me look at the problem. When the engineer got there I called Mr Churcher again and he spoke to the chap, who by the way didn’t seem very confident with the 402, but he did what he was told.  The engineer followed Eric’s instructions and when I turned on the master the left hand engine cranked and started, but he said that I couldn’t turn it off as I wouldn’t get it started again.  Nice!   So off I went with this hot-wired left hand engine.  All was well until an hour into the flight when I wanted to transfer the right hand locker tank.  It wouldn’t transfer.  I managed to keep the balance OK by cross feeding so the fuel was fine.  The reality was all the fuel in the locker was going home for the ride.  By now though it was getting dark, I was still in Mozambique air space and of course not in contact with anyone any longer.  I got the plane ready for night running.  Always listening to my dear instructor, Rob Tasker, I had my trusty mag light around my neck nestled nicely in my shirt pocket.  Turned on the nav lights and the interior lights only to have them all die on me instantly.  I checked the alternators and there was no charge.  So now I turned off all the nav equipment such as it was and all the radios.  Now I was just heading home in the dark.  The passengers in the back were happily drinking their beers oblivious as to what was happening up front.  I was so pleased that I knew that route so well, and as I came up to Buffalo Range boundary I called and luckily got the controller who was just closing up shop.  I asked him to contact Harare and tell them that I had electrical failure and to forward my estimates.   I continued on to Harare and when I estimated the TMA I turned on my radio again and called and got them.  I informed them of what was happening and gave my ETA.  The controller told me to call again with the field in sight if I could; if I could not call he said I had clearance to land.  I think it must have been about 20h00 ± by this time.  I then saw the field thanks to the sewage farm at Hydro and turned to final.  I did call him and he said I was cleared to land.  I selected first flap and gear down –   Hmmm didn’t feel right.  Of course there were no lights at all so there were no indications as to the position of the gear.  I thought I had better wind down the gear just to make sure, so pulled out the handle and turned.  It was just floppy in my hand, so I figured the gear must be down.  Now of course there was this fuel sitting there that I couldn’t use on the right hand side and the left hand side was rather empty by now.   I continued my approach and then had the sinking feeling that we were now closer than usual.  It was a nice landing.  All of a sudden, the right hand wing was now on fire.



All I could think of was the fuel sitting there above this nice hot turbo charger.  There was this fire, oh boy it was horrible.  I could see the flames licking at the windows.  I shouted to the passengers to evacuate, and I went out the crew door.  We ran back quite a way and then there was this huge bang when the wing leading edge exploded.  Even more flames now.  I thought that poor WRB would burn up then.

I phoned the tower and told them we were all out and to please send the fire engine, which eventually came and covered the plane in foam and put the fire out.   WRB was written off.  As an aside, the crew door was removed and installed in Z- WFP a 402A which Exec Air had bought from DDF.


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