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megamalfunction

Tailstrike in Free Fall

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Was doing a little research today to see how often fatal tail strikes occur in skydiving when I discovered this extremely interesting article from the New York Times circa 1993:

4 Die After Their Plane Collides With a Sky Diver

By The Associated Press Nov. 23, 1993

A sky diver collided with a plane more than a mile above the ground on Sunday, causing a crash that killed the four people aboard the aircraft, the authorities said today. The parachutist was hospitalized with a broken ankle.

Mary Culver, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the parachutist, Alfred Peters, who had not yet opened his parachute, hit the upright part of the tail section of the Cherokee Piper Warrior II and damaged the single-engine plane "so severely that it went into a tailspin." It crashed in woods near the Connecticut River, about a mile from Northampton Airport.

"The odds against this happening are absolutely astronomical," said Dave Strickland, owner of the airport's sky-diving operation.

State police identified the dead as Elliot Klein, 49, of Rhinebeck, N.Y., the pilot; his son, Jonas Klein, 18, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; another M.I.T. student, Christina Park, 18, of Auburn, Wash., and Jean Kimball, 45, of Pine Plains, N.Y.

The accident occurred in midafternoon in sunny weather as the Piper flew at 120 miles an hour about 7,500 feet over Northampton Airport, en route to Boston from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. State police said Mr. Klein was taking the two students to school.

Mr. Peters, a 51-year-old Westfield resident who had made 37 jumps, told the authorities that he had leaped from a single-engine Cessna at 8,000 feet above the airport. He said he saw the Piper heading at him moments before the collision, Jeff Guzzetti, an inspector for the National Transportation Safety Board, said.

Mr. Peters told the authorities that he had been flipped over by the force of the blow but had managed to open his parachute at about 4,000 feet.

Investigators said they could not immediately determine why the pilots of the Cessna and the Piper were unaware of each other. Mr. Strickland said it appeared that the Piper had been behind and below the sky-diving plane.

Investigators said the sky-diving plane, which was carrying a pilot and four other jumpers, radioed controllers to alert other planes of the jump. But it was not known if Mr. Klein had heard the warning. Flight rules require pilots flying through the designated jump zone to keep their radios tuned for such warnings. The zone extends three miles in all directions from the airport.

Mr. Peters, who was listed in stable condition at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, declined to speak to reporters. But his wife, Joyce, said: "All he keeps talking about is seeing that plane coming at him. He tried to get out of the way as best he could, but there wasn't much he could do."

 

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3 hours ago, megamalfunction said:

Flight rules require pilots flying through the designated jump zone to keep their radios tuned for such warnings. The zone extends three miles in all directions from the airport.

This is not true!  It is the responsibility of the jumpers and jump pilot to ensure the airspace is clear before jumping.  A pilot transiting over an airport at 7,500 ft. has no requirement to monitor either the airport traffic frequency or the approach/center frequency.  

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There were plenty of discussions back in the day about the accident, back on newsgroups. One of the very very few collisions between jumpers and planes (other than the one they jumped from!). You can find discussions archived in google groups.

The NTSB put the blame on ATC but had to also put it on the pilot of the jump aircraft. Unfortunately in reality it is basically impossible for a jump aircraft to spot other aircraft below, and pretty hard for skydivers in modern skydiving to do so. It didn't help that the parachute symbol -- a warning and not a prohibition of flying through the area - was more or less blue printed on blue on the sectional map. 

Things get messy with all the different factors involved in how airplanes and skydivers are kept separated, and how both sides still somewhat rely on the occasionally fallible big sky theory.

The short NTSB report

 

Quote

Probable Cause The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:FAILURE OF THE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL (ATC) FACILITY TO IDENTIFY AND PROVIDE THE REQUIRED TRAFFIC INFORMATION TO THE JUMP AIRCRAFT BEFORE RELEASE OF THE JUMPER(S). A FACTOR RELATED TO THE ACCIDENT WAS: INADEQUATE VISUAL LOOKOUT BY THE PILOT OF THE JUMP AIRCRAFT

 

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That collision reminds me of a pair of similar incidents over Hemet, California during the 1990s. Our pilot transmitted the usual warnings on the local airport frequency and he was talking with military air traffic controllers at March Air Force Base. We turned on jump run at 10,000 feet over the Hemet, California Airport. Our pilot told me to open the door of our Cessna U296. I saw a Bonanza maybe hundred feet below us and slightly to the right. If I had jumped, I would barely have missed his left wing tip. So I told our pilot to go-around.

Hemet airport also hosts a glider operation, so transmitting pilots are supposed to monitor the (uncontrolled) Hemet Airport frequency as they fly overhead.

The second time, we were jumping over the old dz to the south of Hemet. I jumped out with my tandem student and turned to face our video-grapher. A Fairchild Metroliner roared past behind the video-grapher. The video-grapher never saw the Metroliner. Afterwards, our pilot told me that the last thing he heard was an angry air traffic controller reminding the Metro pilot that he was cleared to descend AFTER the March VOR! The VOR is a good ten miles west of Hemet.

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