Oshkosh, Fatal Accidents, a Chute Pull, and a Final Judgment

July 26, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

It’s the week of the annual AirVenture Extravaganza. What’s new? What’s different? What’s the same? You’ll hear that from all the usual sources, so I won’t repeat here. As always, with such a large aggregation of aircraft in such tight quarters the opportunity for mishap is increased. The NTSB will have a massive presence this year in forum presentations to help pilots get their minds right. Maybe they’ll come up with a new angle.

The week had a rough start with two fatal accidents involving experimental amateur-built aircraft and one fatal involving a Cessna. No details to report and no way of knowing if they had any connection to the show.

Cirrus had a successful chute deployment that resulted in no serious injuries to the aircraft occupants after an engine stoppage; again—not related to Oshkosh.

This week at the AOPA tent in Oshkosh, the Air Safety Institute is demonstrating a mobile app version of the ASI Flight Risk Evaluator. Aside from the fact that it’s mobile, when delivered later this fall the app will streamline the decision-making process. Once loaded with personal and aircraft information, you will only need to put in the departure time and destination airports. The app will then auto-load weather and airport data to provide the pilot with a red, yellow, or green assessment with some educational insight. In the accident situation listed below, I can assure you that the assessment would have been bright RED!

More good news for Cirrus was that the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court decision to overturn a $16.4 million verdict against Cirrus and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation. Briefly, a VFR pilot took off into scattered night IMC in an SR22 and crashed. The pilot had recently purchased the aircraft and had taken the factory training. The contention was that the training contract syllabus stated that pilots would be trained in using the autopilot to escape inadvertent flight into IMC.

That syllabus particular item was left unchecked—hence the lawsuit. The Supreme Court said, “An airplane manufacturer’s duty to warn does not include a duty to provide training to pilots who purchase an airplane from the manufacturer. A pilot may not recover in tort against an airplane manufacturer when the duty owed to the pilot by the manufacturer was imposed only by contract.” The court pointed out that there were ample warning and instructions elsewhere in the POH and in the training classes.

Despite the positive outcome, this is a Pyrrhic victory—the suit cost millions to defend, there are two families that are left fatherless with the desire to find someone at fault other than the deceased pilot, and GA is not enhanced in the view of the public—despite the misuse of the equipment. We should continue to educate strongly about VFR into IMC and not oversell GA’s transportation utility to new pilots.

Bruce Landsberg
President, AOPA Foundation

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7 Responses to “Oshkosh, Fatal Accidents, a Chute Pull, and a Final Judgment”

  1. Steve Kahn Says:

    Bruce,
    I am still amazed that pilots (their families) are not taking responsibility for their actions.
    Years ago while shooting a video for ASF, I was working with Richard Taylor. While waiting for him to arrive, I was speaking to a corporate pilot who was asking what we were doing. I explained that we were shooting a film with Richard Taylor. She said “Oh, Professor Taylor? I was his student as OSU. He just geared up a twin”. I said “no, not Richard.. you must be mistaken.
    When Richard arrived, I asked him if it were true. He said “Yes”!
    I asked him how that happend and he said “I forgot to lower the gear”.
    Finally, I thought… someone actually took responsibility.
    Just some thoughts of the day.
    Best,
    Steve

  2. Fred von Zabern Says:

    Excellent treatise on the Cirrus accident. Nobody wins when an aircraft crashes. You’d like to think about the good intentions regarding the meaningful training Cirrus provides to each of its customers, and that in that training, Cirrus does enough due diliegence to let their customer know about the hazards of flying in general. My biggest fear during my full-time flight instructor days was going broke and dragging my family with me while defending my innocence against a student’s heirs for something they did because “I didn’t specifically tell them not to”.

  3. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Steve & Fred…..

    Thanks for your comments. PIC confers both wonderful and awesome responsibility. This accident, which we’ll be highlighting in the Landmark series soon, shows how things can go awry both operationally and legally.

    Fred – while your concern is widespread amongst CFIs, my information is that unless someone is truly negligent, the legal system doesn’t bother because there usually aren’t enough assets to excite the attorneys. Wonder if anyone else has hard evidence to the contrary?

  4. George Wilhelmsen Says:

    Re: the Cirrus that had a successful chute deployment for an engine stoppage, my only question is why are we celebrating?

    Granted, we have only the blurb in your commentary to go by, but hundreds of pilots land dead stick daily (glider pilots) without a problem. Others safely land when they fail to properly flight plan and assure enough fuel is on board, or have a catastrophic engine failure in flight. These events are few and far between, and need to get fewer and farther between.

    None of these pilots needed to pull the “chute” so to speak, to land safely.

    Perhaps there was a compelling reason to pull the chute in this case – maybe the plane was over rocky or inhospitable terrain? Perhaps it was flying over a congested area, with lots of homes?

    I sure hope so.

    I have read of several Cirrus chute pulls that on face value, were absolutely warranted. There was one where a flight control detached from the plane. We can all agree that such situations can be unrecoverable, and pulling the chute was prudent. In another case, the PIC was incapacitated. That one clearly made sense – while there have been some successful cases where pilots were able to safely talk non-pilots flying planes to the ground, pulling the chute was the safest way to go there.

    Then again, there are the ones where the pilot pulled the chute because he / she entered into bad weather. Come on, really? What next, chute deployments because the pilot just had a bad feeling? (Never mind, we already had one of those.)

    I’m getting more and more ambivalent about these “sissy chute” deployments. They run up our insurance costs, and show that as pilots, we consider these devices as a “mistake eraser” of a sort.

    What happened to pilot training? What happened to making a safe, off-field landing?

    Then again, maybe such things have happened with Cirrus aircraft – perhaps they don’t get press, because they aren’t chute deployments?

    Is this bugging anyone else?

  5. Charles J. Taunt Says:

    i wholeheartedly agree with George. The published report that I read said that ht chute was deployed at 9,000feet and the 22 landed 1.5 miles from an airport. That plane, as does my 20, has a glide path of 11 to 1, over 15 miles at that altitude. He was effectively on short final at 9,000 feet and couldn’t bring it in ?

  6. Tim Says:

    I’m a member of the CSIP program at Cirrus since 2004 and I just referred to the training material on the older SR-22 models and they publish the Maximum Glide Ratio @ 9.6:1., with two notes; with failed engine the distance will be more than if the engine is at idle ( no added ratio published ) and if prop is windmilling some additional range may be acheived by moving the power lever to idleand increasing a/s by 5 to 10 knots, ( no added ratio published). Has Cirrus published a new glide ratio,and where will I find it published?

  7. Greg Johnson Says:

    It is pretty well proven fact that litigious attacks on aircraft manufacturers pose more of a threat to continued flight than the weather does. The demise of a brand of aircraft due to factors unrelated to airworthiness is a loss to all of GA. Should GA be establishing some sort of “Legal Defense Fund”? To help defray these legal costs when a single manufacturer is so burdened as to have it’s existence threatened via “necessary cost increases” due to litigation, could help keep the brand affordable. $5 per pilot per year targeted at costs from litigation could help all of GA by keeping the builders building. United we stand, divided we fall.

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