Skydiving-Related Aircraft Accidents 2016

Because skydiving is dependent on aircraft, it’s essential to understand the risk of the ride to altitude. One way to evaluate that risk is to review recent jump plane accidents. Philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Jumpers should encourage their jump pilots to take Santayana’s advice and read these reports so they can learn from our history.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating all of the accidents contained in this report. The first in a series of NTSB reports contains only preliminary information. After gathering all relevant information, the board then releases its second report, called a factual report. After its investigation is complete, the board issues a final report, in which it determines the accident’s probable cause.

Two accidents in 2016 resulted in fatalities:

 A Cessna 182 struck the ground shortly after takeoff, killing four skydivers and the pilot. The two tandem instructors and their students were the first skydivers to lose their lives in a jump aircraft crash in the U.S. since 2010. According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, multiple witnesses said that the aircraft climbed to about 150 feet before making a sudden turn and starting its descent.

 A non-USPA member who was dispatching static-line jumpers died when his reserve parachute deployed prematurely in the door of a Cessna Caravan, according to the NTSB Preliminary Report. The jumps he was conducting were part of a military-style operation that was not in accordance with the USPA Basic Safety Requirements.

Four accidents resulted in injuries to pilots and skydivers:

 The pilot of a Cessna Caravan sustained minor injuries during a forced landing shortly after takeoff. According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, the accident caused substantial damage to the aircraft, but none of the 17 skydivers was injured. The skydivers wore safety belts, the use of which is likely what prevented any injuries. 

 A skydiver sustained serious injuries after striking the tail of a King Air 90. According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, the injured skydiver jumped before the pilot configured the aircraft for exit.

 The pilot of a Cessna 206 and six skydivers sustained minor injuries in a forced landing that substantially damaged the aircraft. The NTSB Preliminary Report stated that the aircraft “was climbing through about 1,000 feet AGL when the engine lost power.”

 The pilot of a Cessna 182 sustained serious injuries prior to bailing out because fire engulfed the aircraft’s left wing. All four skydivers who departed the stricken aircraft prior to the pilot also sustained minor injuries. The safety board’s preliminary report indicates that the aircraft was participating in an operation that “involved an aerial pyrotechnic display.” The pilotless aircraft struck a house, causing minor injury to one occupant.

Six accidents resulted in no injuries:

 A Twin Otter sustained substantial damage to its wing. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident to be “the pilot's failure to maintain directional control during the aborted landing in gusty crosswind conditions, which resulted in a runway excursion and a collision with a tree.”

 While two parachutists stood on the lower wing of a Stearman biplane and held on to the edge of the front cockpit, the plane sustained substantial damage after it struck terrain. According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, the pilot stated that after he climbed to about 200 feet above the ground, the airplane began descending and he executed an off-airport forced landing.

 A Cessna 182 sustained substantial damage to its left wing as it collided with terrain during an off-airport forced landing in a field, according to the NTSB Preliminary Report.

 A Cessna Caravan landed with 14 skydivers due to deteriorating weather. A prop strike and runway excursion into a ditch resulted in substantial damage to the aircraft’s airframe, according to the NTSB Preliminary Report.

 A King Air 90 sustained substantial damage as it stalled and entered a spin with 14 skydivers on board. The skydivers safely exited the aircraft after the pilot recovered from the spin. According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, “A witness observed that the airplane's right stabilizer and elevator were missing,” as the aircraft landed.

 A PAC 750XL sustained substantial damage when its landing gear collapsed and the airplane collided with a fence following an aborted takeoff. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was “the pilot's failure to set the wing flaps for takeoff, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall, an aborted takeoff and a runway overrun.”

Piloting a jump plane is among the most demanding of flying jobs, with multiple takeoffs and landings in a variety of conditions and with a variety of loads, as well as the need to refuel often throughout a day. Pilots should fly every flight professionally. A variety of resources—the USPA Skydiving Aircraft Operations Manual and Jump Pilot Training Syllabus, a Flight Operations Handbook, and the articles “Formation Flying 101” and the FAA’s “Aircraft Control After Engine Failure on Takeoff”—are available under the Group Membership tab at uspa.org. Jump pilots and skydiving aircraft operators should utilize these resources as part of a comprehensive and proactive safety-management system.

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