Until it happened to me, I looked
down on all pilots that ended up flying with a seat belt out. I couldn't
image how any pilot, that was worth a darn, could just tootle along with
that buckle banging against the side of the ship. Then it was my
turn and now I understand.
I had 3 passengers that day and one of them was Mike Ivey. Mike was a very loud talker and when he climbed into Nelliebelle's back seat he was in deep conversation with the gentlemen next to him. When I turned around for a seat belt check, everyone had one on. Unbeknownst to me though, was the fact that Mike had left his seat belt hanging out the door and, not finding the correct end, just grabbed the middle seat belt and lengthened it until it fit.
I had them quiet down for takeoff, made my calls, and departed Middlesboro airport for the northern jobs. As soon as I made my call the guys started back into their conversation and it was loud. We were probably 8-10 minutes into the trip and already at cruise when there was a slight pause in the back seat chatter. I heard some pecking an immediately thought of a seat belt being let out. I then looked around a second time to see if all the guys had a belt on. I asked them to check their belts again because it sure sounded to me like a buckle was banging against the side of the ship. Mike looked around and realized what he had done and told me that there was a belt out on his side of the ship.
I slowed to 60 Mph and then told Mike to open the door and pull it in. He said there was no way he was going to do that because he might fall out. I told him that there was so much force on that door that he would only be able to open it a few inches, just enough to pull it in. He still did not want to do it then I told him that the buckle was banging a hole in the fuel valve panel, at that location, and that it was very important that he pull it in. I then opened my door to show him that it would only open a few inches because of all the surface area exposed to the relative wind hitting it. Once he saw that I could do it and not fall or get sucked out, he did it and pulled in the seat belt. All this happened in the span of about 2 minutes.
When we landed I inspected the damage and found that, other than needing a new panel cover, we had only sustained cosmetic damage to the side of the ship. I then got my tool kit out and changed the seat belts around so if that was to ever happen again, the smaller of the two ends would be the one that would be left out. It never happened again and after that day I never again looked down on pilots that had similar situations.