I thought some here might appreciate this anecdote and audio clip, which is a testament to how a few seemingly small incidents can converge to quickly become a big distraction while flying.
I have been commuting to Buffalo, NY, for work just about every week since February 2005 in a '73 Bonanza V35B. Two Sunday nights ago, I was within Buffalo approach's airspace at about 50 miles from the airport at 4,000 feet MSL, when the batteries of my active noise reduction (ANR) headsets quit. These headsets work very well at reducing cockpit noise when the ANR is working, but do a poor job when the ANR doesn't work. Consequently, it became harder to hear ATC so I turned up the radio and went about fishing out a couple of AA batteries from my bag while the autopilot handled the task of keeping the aircraft level and on course.
In the dark of the cockpit I made my best guess at inserting the batteries but guessed incorrectly, for the ANR would not power up. I had just opened the battery pack to try again when suddenly there was a loud, BOOM, as the latch of the passenger door completely released and the door blew open. The shoulder belt that had been hanging behind the empty passenger seat was sucked out of the noticeable opening and the buckle began banging rapidly against the top of the fuselage. Had the strap's other buckle not caught on the strap that hung from the ceiling, this shoulder belt would have departed the aircraft and descended into oblivion somewhere over the farm fields of western NY.
At the same instant that happened, the AP, which uses static pressure from within the cockpit to assist in determining level flight, suddenly commanded an approximate 1,200 foot a minute climb due to the pressure drop caused by the open door.
Now, I have had this door open (tricky latch) and even a passenger window in the back open (thanks to a mechanic opening it and not fully locking it closed, followed by my failure to check it) during flight in this aircraft before, but in the past episodes the latch partially held the door to the frame and only the cabin noise increased. Of course, the ANR headsets also did their job to reduce the noise so it was a complete non-event. This time was different. I had no ear protection and the door was literally swinging about 4 inches (10cm) away from the frame. So much for the slipstream keeping it pressed closed, despite an indicated airspeed of about 165 knots. Of course it was now very windy in the cockpit and that wind was doing all it could to blow my non-working headsets off my head. Fortunately the outside air temperature was +16 celcius, warm enough that the temperature was not a further distraction.
The first order of business was to release the AP and level the aircraft. Once I was satisfied that I was positively controlling the aircraft, I cleared the seat next to me of all objects, including my bag and book of approach plates, since I deduced that the next annoyance could easily be a cockpit full of blowing papers.
I then made one attempt at slamming the door, but that was fruitless as the door latch wouldn't catch. With a moment to slow my heart rate, I called ATC to inform them of the problem and to also request a straight approach, which would get me down quicker.
The short clip is somewhat routine, but I assure you it was very exciting in the cockpit during those moments. The rest of the flight I spent concentrating on flying the aircraft while recollections of similar tales that ended in dead pilots and destroyed aircraft filled my thoughts.