This April 2008 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.
Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: None. Location: Columbus, Ga. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The student pilot was practicing crosswind landings under the supervision of a CFI. After completing the preflight checks the CFI had difficulty closing the top cabin door latch. After multiple attempts he was able to get the latch to lock. The Piper was equipped with toe brakes with pedals on the left side only. The student occupied the left seat. As the student began taxiing the airplane, he reported that the brakes felt weak. The CFI elected to continue with the flight and they performed three uneventful touch-and-go landings. During the fourth takeoff the door latch released.
The CFI immediately retarded the throttle and instructed the student to apply the brakes. The student complied, but the brakes were not effective. The CFI attempted to slow the Cherokee down by applying the center hand brake. The CFI also applied left rudder in an effort to prevent the airplane from going off the runway, but was unsuccessful. The airplane struck a drainage ditch and rolled down an embankment. The left landing gear was torn from the aircraft and the left wing sustained substantial damage.
According to the POH, “the cabin door on the Cherokee is double latched, so the chances of it springing open in flight at both the top and bottom are remote. However, should you forget the upper latch, or not fully engage the lower latch, the door may spring partially open. This will usually happen at takeoff or soon afterwards. An open door will not affect normal flight characteristics, and a normal landing can be made with the door open.”
Probable cause: The flight instructor’s improper decision to abort the takeoff after the cabin door latch opened.
For more information: NTSB.gov