“We Were in a Steep Nose Down Attitude”This story originally published by NASA's ASRS Callback
After departing, we were being vectored around traffic during the climb sequence of the flight. Upon receiving clearance to FL230, I noticed the cabin pressure light begin to flash intermittently. I increased the cabin inflow and adjusted the cabin altitude, with only a slight improvement of the annunciator panel. The door lock and door seal lights were in their normal lit configuration at this time. I recycled the door seal to test its integrity. Shortly thereafter, the door flew open, with resultant depressurization.
Cabin contents were flying about the cabin, my headset and glasses departed the plane…. A blanket from the back seat covered my head and face and was pulling my head out of the cabin into the slipstream. My passenger pulled the blanket off my head and I saw we were in a steep nose down attitude. I pulled back power and eased the descent. The plane was very difficult to control at this point.
I elected to try to get the plane under control before considering an attempt at landing. I asked my passenger to place a headset onto my head and I was able to communicate with ATC, informing them that we had lost our door. At some point, the door completely departed the plane, improving the flight characteristics considerably. After slowing down and aggressively trimming, I was able to get back control of the plane and said we would return to the departure airport since the plane was now flyable and the runway environment was familiar….
I asked for permission to change to Tower frequency and requested a downwind approach since it would give me a chance to test the flight characteristics in the landing configuration at pattern altitude. Tower immediately cleared us to land. With flaps and gear down, the plane was more stable, and the landing was uneventful.
Luckily, there was a passenger along to “uncover” the pilot when the door opened to a world of excitement...