CJP Member and active forum participant Allen Wolpert recently detailed a harrowing experience onboard his CJ2+ as he descended towards New Orleans Lakefront Airport (KNEW) that demonstrates, among several things, the importance of training – for both pilot and passengers – and keeping calm in an emergency situation. Allen’s post is reprinted below with his permission. -Ed.
I was having a nice flight to KNEW today [July 5] cruising at FL450 topping a line of TRW stretching from WV along my route of flight to LA and TX. Tops were not far below me and I deviated around stuff that I would have flown over as I thought about having an emergency that would cause me to descend into the top of a cell.
It is amazing how rapidly a well-planned flight goes down the tubes. i was on the RYTHM4 arrival into KNEW just past BLEUZ navigating around some cells over BLEUZ, descending at 2500 fpm to meet a crossing restriction to cross 75 miles north of RYTHM at FL280, dialing in the ATIS, getting things setup for the approach. Things are busy but under control.
Suddenly I see the DOOR SEAL annunciator. We are at around FL300 descending. I call for MASKS ON. Marie is in the right seat. I get my mask on without too much fumbling, switch the MIC switch, and look over to confirm Marie has her mask on and if okay.
Just a month ago I did my 61.68 at CAE in MMU and like the last 2 years Marie has rode right seat during all the 61.58 maneuvers and emergency. She fumbled getting the mask on during the training and knew exactly what to do now. Including her in the training was the best thing we have done.
With my headset off and mask on I could hear lots of noise from behind me – air rushing, whistles, and pops. Something did not sound right. It was difficult hearing ATC over the speaker with all the noises.
As I was assessing the situation the CABIN ALT light came on. At that point I told ATC I had a pressurization problem and was initiating an emergency descent. I had been descending at 2500 fpm and pitched down to 4000 fpm. I did not push it to red line, as we were descending at a good pace, on O2, I was hearing strange noises and was concerned about the integrity of the door. Also I was busy weaving my way around buildups in the descent and trying to hear ATC. At one point ATC told me to maintain 18,000 and I told them I needed to continue descending lower. Overall ATC was helpful and cooperative.
My focus was to fly the plane, stay out of cells, and get below 10K so I could get the mask off, and headsets back on so I could communicate clearly. Once below 10K the CABIN ALT went out and it was clear the cabin was not pressurized and was tracking the aircraft altitude. ATC asked if I wanted to cancel my emergency, which I did, and the landing was uneventful.
Upon shutting down and looking back in the cabin I saw a forest of masks hanging down. Some of the popping I may have heard was the masks deploying. When I opened the door I found the secondary door seal was torn along the bottom of the door. How long it has been that way I don’t know. I give a glance at the door seal during preflight but have not looked closely at the bottom of the door. I will be in the future and you should too. Running my fingers behind the secondary door seal showed the tears (below.)
The secondary door seal is supposed to hold pressurization below FL310 if the primary door seal fails. I suspect my secondary door seal has been torn for a while and it was not an issue as long as the primary door seal worked. My primary door seal failed for whatever reason and the secondary door seal was inop.
So I have maintenance flying down to me to replace both door seals, repack the passenger masks, and top off my O2 bottle.
In my reflections on handling this emergency I realize I did not run any checklists. I didn’t have time to go heads down with checklists while navigating around weather in a rapid descent. I also didn’t note much diagnostic information as to how quickly the cabin was climbing and what altitude the cabin got up to. My focus was flying and staying safe. I see the limits in workload and task saturation when single pilot in an emergency situation. It is something to consider when tackling areas of nasty weather that bring its own high workload.
Today was an interesting and educational flight.