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Skydiving-Related Aircraft Accidents

Skydiving-Related Aircraft Accidents

by USPA Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger

Features | April 2019

Tragedy struck the skydiving community in 2018 when a Cessna 182 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing the pilot and three skydivers and leaving the lone survivor with serious injuries. According to the National Transportation Safety Board Preliminary Report: “A witness that was in a park outside the airport watched as the airplane climbed after takeoff on the accident flight. The witness said that the airplane was about 150 feet over the runway when the engine stopped. They watched as the wings of the airplane rocked left and right before the airplane pitched down and collided with the ground.”

The NTSB is still investigating all of the accidents mentioned in this article—including 2018’s sole fatal skydiving-related aircraft accident described above—and has released only its Preliminary Report (the initial report) and in some cases its Factual Report (the second report that contains additional information gathered during the investigation). After completing its investigations, the NTSB will issue a final report for each accident that determines the accident’s probable cause.

Two accidents in 2018 resulted in injuries to pilots and skydivers:

  • The pilot of a Cessna 182 sustained serious injuries and four skydivers sustained minor injuries during a forced landing after takeoff that caused substantial damage to the aircraft.
  • The pilot of a Cessna 182 sustained serious injuries and two of the four skydivers sustained minor injuries in a forced landing after takeoff. According to the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration inspector who responded to the accident said, “The engine and right main landing gear separated during the impact sequence. Both the left and right wings were substantially damaged.”

Three accidents resulted in no injuries to the pilots, who were the sole occupants:

  • A Cessna 182 was damaged during a landing accident after dropping skydivers over the airport. According to the NTSB, “The airplane came to rest inverted 183 feet beyond the departure end of runway 18. Examination of the wreckage revealed that the airframe sustained substantial damage to the fuselage, both wings, rudder and vertical stabilizer.”
  • A Cessna U206 sustained substantial damage as it “landed long and ran off the runway into a field,” according to an FAA Preliminary Report. The NTSB is now investigating the accident.
  • A Cessna 182 sustained substantial damage during a forced landing after dropping skydivers over the airport. According to the NTSB, the aircraft “struck three vehicles following a complete loss of engine power and subsequent forced landing [in]to a residential area.”

Since USPA is not the investigating authority for aircraft accidents and the NTSB Final Reports are not yet available, the information above simply relates the known facts. However, it’s clear that even appropriately rated commercial pilots must receive thorough training prior to flying skydivers. That training must include aircraft-specific systems, preflight inspections, weight-and-balance considerations and proper fuel management. Because pilots, skydivers and DZOs are jointly responsible for compliance with Federal Aviation Regulation Part 105, it’s essential that pilots understand and comply with all sections of the regulation.

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 Governance tab at uspa.org. Jump pilots and skydiving aircraft operators should utilize these resources as part of a comprehensive and proactive safety-management system.

The NTSB’s reports and complete data summaries are located in the Aviation Accident Database at ntsb.gov.

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