The June 21 King Air crash in Hawaii that killed the pilot and 10 skydivers, including three tandem students, was the deadliest jump plane crash since 1995. That year, a Beechcraft Queen Air crashed on takeoff killing 12: the pilot, 10 skydivers and a person on the ground. The Hawaii crash is also the deadliest civil aviation accident since 2011, when a modified North American P-51D Mustang crashed, killing the pilot and 10 spectators at the Reno Air Races. National Transportation Safety Board Member Jennifer Homendy raised this fact in the first of several press conferences following the Hawaii crash. She also put the Federal Aviation Administration “on notice” for not acting on the NTSB’s 2008 recommendations for increased regulation of jump-plane inspection and maintenance and jump-pilot training. It was no surprise that skydiving and jump planes in particular then became an immediate target for uninformed statements from reporters and talking heads about the sport being “unregulated” and comparable to the “wild west.”
USPA tracks and keeps records of all fatal jump-plane accidents, of course, and USPA staff quickly went into full gear on Saturday morning, pulling together facts and statistics for the inevitable media inquiries. Those records show that fatal jump-plane accidents have significantly declined over the past 10 years. Some of that decline is directly attributable to actions taken both by USPA and the FAA beginning in 2008. Within days of the accident, USPA produced and posted a fact-based statement (see below) highlighting the improvements in jump-aircraft safety.
As the graph shows, the record of fatal jump-plane crashes has improved markedly over the past 10 years, with 10 such accidents between 2009 and 2018, in which 19 jump pilots and skydivers died. (That includes two accidents involving inadvertent parachute deployments that killed the jumpers and damaged the airplanes but did not result in a crash.) In the previous 10-year period—1999-2008—there were 16 fatal jump-plane accidents that killed 50 jump pilots and skydivers. In the 10-year period before that—1989-1998—there were 15 accidents that killed 89.
NTSB Member Homendy also cited 80 jump plane accidents over the past 10 years, including the 10 fatal ones. That initially sounds like a lot but averages out to eight accidents per year out of an estimated 246,000 annual jump flights. Most of the accidents resulted in minor or no injuries, which is attributable to the use of skydiver restraints, pilot skill in handling the emergency or just plain luck.
Can jump-plane safety be improved? Yes, absolutely. The goal should always be zero accidents. USPA has already shown the NTSB that we are ready to implement sensible actions that improve safety. The NTSB closed all four of its 2008 recommendations to USPA after we took action, noting two of those as “acceptable action” and two as “exceeds recommended action.” We’ll stay close to the accident investigators and the regulatory decision makers as this plays out, remaining open to ideas that enhance safety but guarding against those that are unworkable or would have no effect.
(More articles being added every day!)
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