A PRACTICE crash landing turned into a real emergency when a pilot forgot to lower the wheels of his aircraft, an accident report reveals.

The Piper Cherokee Lance was left seriously damaged after the incident at Earls Colne Airfield.

But the 61-year-old pilot, who had 675 hours of flying experience, walked away unscathed, according to a report from the Air Accident Investigation Branch.

The plane was built in 1978 and owned by the Lance G-BRH Group, whose trustees are David Chatterton of Coast Road, West Mersea, and Peter Mackinnon of Coles Oak Lane, Dedham.

The report said the pilot attributed the crash to his last-minute decision to land, rather than go around and make a new landing approach. A practice forced landing is an exercise carried out regularly by pilots, to prepare themselves for the eventuality of an unexpected engine failure.

The pilot simulates an engine failure by throttling back the aircraft so it is virtually gliding, picks a field considered suitable to land in and then attempts to line it up for a glide landing approach.

At about 500ft, the pilot will decide whether he could achieve a safe landing and will put the power back on and fly away again.

The report says on returning from a local flight the pilot decided to carry out one from about 2,500ft above the airfield. He chose the airfield as the selected landing area for the test exercise.

However, because he was on the approach to the runway, he believed he could make a safe landing. So instead of continuing the emergency practice and flying away, he decided to make a proper landing.

The report said: “He elected to continue the approach to land and in doing so omitted to select the undercarriage down.

“The aircraft sustained damage but the pilot was uninjured.

“The pilot attributed the accident to his last-minute decision to land, rather than go around.”

The crash happened on June 23 this year at 2.09pm.