You Probably Aren’t Aware of All These Oopsies
Seatbelts help. You probably get the picture by now. But do you know just how many lives they’ve saved in the past couple of years alone? Oh, man. Loads.
At time of publication, USPA dropzones use seatbelts. Even the legendarily non-USPA maverick dropzone at Lodi had seat-belt use essentially imposed on it--which resulted in all souls walking away from that dropzone’s 2016 Cessna Caravan forced landing in a vineyard. The pilot suffered a bloody nose. (He was not wearing a shoulder belt--nor his emergency bailout rig. Tsk tsk.) They were shaken, but okay--and they haven’t been the only ones.
Over the last couple of years, forced landings all over the world have seen most of the jumpers survive, in great part because of that friendly webbing.
- On December 4, 2014, A Cessna 205 out of Sussex, New Jersey suffered a total loss of engine power during its initial climb. The in-cabin video shows the forced landing going smoothly until the nose wheel dug into a muddy field and flipping the plane onto its back. All five seatbelted souls on board survived with minor injuries.
- Also in December of 2014, a Cessna 182 in Beromunster, Switzerland lost power shortly after take-off. The aircraft broke its nosewheel in a field, but all five occupants--seatbelts fastened--made it out with bumps and bruises.
- On May 10 of 2015, an Antonov out of Azov, Russia experienced high engine temperatures that forced an immediate landing. While the crash was severe enough that a post-landing fire destroyed the fuselage, all 13 (seat-belted) occupants got out in time, and survived with minor injuries.
- On June 29 of 2015, a Cessna 182D out of Oak Harbour, Washington lost engine power. It struck a tree during the forced landing, which was short of the runway. The impact split the fuselage in two at the instrument panel. Unsurprisingly, the pilot was seriously injured (but survived). One passenger was injured after being ejected from the open fuselage.
- On July 12 of 2015, a Cessna took off from Barnegat County, New Jersey. The crankshaft failed shortly after take-off, forcing a landing right on the highway. The traffic camera shows the plane landing on the right lanes and rolling onto the grass median towards the end. The pilot and all four passengers survived with hardly a scratch on them, thanks to their seatbelts.
- On July 7 of 2015, a Cessna Caravan lost engine power shortly after taking off from the desert dropzone in Dubai. The forced landing into the sand dunes started a fire that consumed the airframe, but everyone--including the pilot--was able to unfasten their seatbelts and get out before it burned up.
- In August of 2015, a Turbo Finist carrying a pilot and ten skydivers crashed shortly after taking off from Casale Monferrato, Italy. The impact of the landing bent the wings, broke the main undercarriage legs and smashed the engine compartment. Everybody wore seatbelts. Everybody walked away.
- In October 2015, a Yak-12 carrying three skydivers force-landed in Poland, hard enough to break the main undercarriage. The video starts with a glance at their fastened seat-belts and ends with them running away from the wreckage.
- Later that October, one of Dubai’s Twin Otters crashed on landing. Only a pilot was onboard. He survived, despite major damage to the airframe, thanks to his handy webbing.
- On April 28, 2016, an antique biplane lost power and force-landed near Osage in the American midwest. The pilot plus two skydivers put the airplane at gross weight, and both skydivers stood on the lower wing, grasping the front cockpit edge. This created more drag than usual for what was originally a two-seater trainer with only 220 horsepower. The plane never climbed very high and force-landing in a field, hard enough to break both main undercarriage legs. The "safety straps," as sketchy and unofficial as they must have been, kept those skydivers onboard during what must have been one hell of a clenchy forced landing. (For comparison: a couple of years earlier, another skydiver was incapacitated by carbon monoxide--because he had been holding on right behind the exhaust--and fell from the lower wing of a PT-17 biplane at an altitude too low to open a parachute. If that jumper had had a safety strap, they’d be alive today.
- Thanks to rockstar Sebastian Alvarez’s video, most of us are familiar with the May 12, 2016 crash of a Cessna 208 Caravan at Lodi. Engine failure shortly after takeoff forced a landing. During the roll-out, the plane struck a truck and rolled into a ditch, inverting at low speed. When the airplane ground to a halt, the entire load was hanging from the ceiling. All 17 skydivers exited uninjured. The last frame of the video shows the pilot washing blood off his nose--which shoulder belts would have prevented.
- On July 3, 2016, a Cessna 206 out of Gilchrist, Texas had to land when an engine broke a connector rod shortly after take-off. The pilot landed upright on Crystal Beach. There were zero injuries.
- On August 3, 2016, a Cessna TU206 lost power 1,000 feet after its takeoff from Skiatook, Oklahoma (which, coincidentally, sees more than its share of aviation mishaps) and had to come down in a grassy field. The impact buckled the airframe in a major way, but everyone was belted. All seven occupants survived with minor injuries.
- Quite recently to this publication--In September of 2016, in fact--a plane out of DC Skydiving had to land right after takeoff. All 11 skydivers and the pilot wore seatbelts, and all walked away uninjured. The plane didn’t fare so well.
The thing about seatbelts, of course, is that they don’t work if you don’t use them--or if you use them wrong. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how to use a seatbelt on a skydiving plane, ‘cause there are some sketchy little myths floating around.