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Rod Lovells story


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I was surfing Gumtree when I came across an airport tow tractor for sale in S.A. Curious, I examined the ad, and saw the sellers name - "Rod Lovell". I thought to myself, "I know that name! Where have I heard it before?"

After an hour of brain racking and doing searches, it all suddenly fell into place. Rod Lovell frequented the Historical Commercial Vehicle Club forum about 10-12 years ago, and I did for a while, too.

I knew he had some antique machinery such as a Chamberlain tractor and a 1960's B61 Mack truck (a very nice restored example, I must say) - and I also dealt with him over the 'net, and sold him some large wheel studs he needed.


He struck me as a fairly decent bloke, and I knew he'd been a pilot - but I knew nothing about his life story. Then yesterday, when I was doing searches on his name, up came a book he's written - "Hero to Zero".

Basically, Rod Lovell was PIC of the DC-3 (VH-EDC) that ditched into Botany Bay in 1998, as a direct result of an EFATO. However, in the accident investigation, Rod claims he was made a scapegoat for the crash, and he didn't deserve it.


Essentially, the company that Rod was working for, were a bunch of cowboys, anyway - and the old Dakota was a badly maintained 40,000 hour pile of junk, that had had no-one in charge of its maintenance.

The engines were being run on condition, with the CAA allowing a 100 hr run extension over their overhaul limit time - even though a recent engine check had shown up port engine distress, which the CAA hadn't even noticed.


In addition, the co-pilot was not properly licenced to fly the DC-3, had a minimal level of training and experience, and had never been checked through a full DC-3 EFATO procedure.

But the CAA and ATSB came down hard on Rod for not weighing every single item that went on board, and taking off nearly 600kgs overweight - and for not ensuring his co-pilot was properly trained and licenced and run through an EFATO test.


One of the things that amazed me was that no Australian flight manual had ever been produced for the DC-3. Everyone with a Dakota just utilised out-of-date American versions of flight manuals - which all varied.

Rod is obviously very bitter that the CAA destroyed his life and his piloting career by suspending his pilots licence and blaming him entirely for the DC-3 crash. Many pilots seem to be in agreement with Rod.


Rod sees himself as another Chesley Sullenberger - a hero who crash-landed a crippled aircraft into the drink and saved everyone on board. Only the hostie was injured and that appears to be because she hadn't fastened her seatbelt.

I personally believe the truth is probably a little more nuanced. I believe Rod has been poorly treated by the authorities and he doesn't deserve to be the solitary scapegoat for the crash.

The investigation showed up some serious CAA deficiencies, with safety oversight failures galore - including not knowing that the company had sacked its chief engineer some 12 mths before the crash - and which basically left no-one in charge of repair work.


However, I believe Rod has to accept a degree of responsibility for the crash - particularly taking off overweight - and also not carrying out the many important flight checks demanded of a PIC.

I don't know if his book will assuage his bitterness or change anything. I think he's simply got to live with the fact that he made some costly errors, but the authorities response was quite unfair.


We've all got our stories of being unfairly treated by those with power over us - be they employers, official authorities, banks, bad judicial decisions, whatever.

I think one dear old Auntie had a good saying, that I try to follow - "As you age, you either get bitter, or you get better." Getting better is more desirable than getting bitter.







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Only about thirty seconds from cleared for takeoff until they hit the water with the PIC have taking over from the PF late in the piece. Not much time to make decisions, and plenty of blame to go around following the lengthy investigation. Being the captain, he was ultimately responsible for the safety of the aircraft when it took off so he got most of the blame for what happened while he was in charge, which I suppose is what you might expect. Luckily nobody was seriously injured .


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I think it was probably highly fortuitous that VH-EDC crash-landed right after takeoff. I would have to opine that it wouldn't have made it to Lord Howe Island, anyway - and a ditching far out to sea, would have had a much worse result than ditching off the end of the runway into the smooth waters of Botany Bay. 

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3 hours ago, onetrack said:

I think one dear old Auntie had a good saying, that I try to follow - "As you age, you either get bitter, or you get better." Getting better is more desirable than getting bitter.

That's a good saying, and very true I recon.

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