Cirrus Parachute System in action

13 Jan 12 3 Comments

I just discovered this great video footage of a US Coast Guard rescue in the Bahamas.

It happened just last week. Dr. Richard McGlaughlin and his daughter Elaine were flying his Cirrus SR22 to Haiti to do charity work, something Mr McGlaughlin has done regularly since the earthquake.

Dr. McG’s Haiti Chronicles – Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association

Dr. Dick “McG” McGlaughlin flew in with a Cirrus full of medical supplies because he “couldn’t stand to hear one more thing on the TV”. His first (short) report from ground zero said, “Everybody should come here- a great ameliorative for feeling put upon.” Interesting that McG ended up taking his own advice to heart. He has since flown his Cirrus to serve in Haiti more or less on a once-monthly basis.

They were a few miles out from Andros Island when they encountered engine trouble. The oil pressure dropped slightly and then within a few minutes it dropped to zero.

Elaine wrote about the experience in the COPA comments:

I’m writing this email from the Sheraton hotel in Nassau, after one of the most exhilarating days of my life. My dad and I took off from the smaller Tamiami-Executive Airport this morning, en route to Haiti after picking up his plane from a couple weeks of routine annual maintenance. I had bought a shiny new digital camera for the trip that morning, and was hungrily reading through the owner’s manual (something I never do) when I heard my dad speak into the headset, calling out to the nearest air traffic controllers that he planned to do an emergency descent because of an unexpected drop in oil pressure.

I thought that was kind of weird, but was mostly interested in organizing my granola bars and putting my travel sunscreen into MY backpack instead of his, and figured that if anything was really going on we would calmly make an unplanned landing on some dusty runway in the Bahamas, fix whatever was going on with the oil pressure, and be on our way. Then my dad’s voice became a little more pressured, and I noticed his hands were shaking.

They were at 9,500 feet. After the radio call, the engine seized and the propeller stopped. Dr. McGlaughlin configured the plane as best as he could and continued to speak to air traffic control. Elaine gradually became aware of the gravity of the situation.

My dad was obviously spooked, but mostly composed, adjusting whichever controls would respond at that point and continuing to communicate with air traffic controllers in various locations. They asked how many “souls” were on board, and I thought to myself that that particular word choice was decidedly morbid for a moment like this. As my dad’s voice became more gravelly, I sensed in him and began to feel myself what I now have the time and luxury to recognize as dread. Dread is sticky, humid; it fills the air and waits heavily, knowing and fearing, hating to have to know, but knowing all the same.


The air traffic controllers told us that the U.S. Coast Guard had been notified, and that we were four minutes from land. Four minutes was about three minutes too far, because we sank to 2200 feet at what looked to be a mile off shore, and my dad decided to pull the parachute. BOOM! We shot forward, I hit my head pretty hard on the dashboard– the energy of the parachute rocketing out the back of the plane caused us to pitch forward, and all of a sudden we were stopped still, dangling it seemed, looking straight down at so much flash-blue water. Just as quickly as it had careened over, the plane righted itself, the parachute slider doing its job, working the larger overarching parachute upright into the sky. Then we floated downwards, somewhat slowly, and hit the water HARD, a big firm collision right up your spine and down, but before I knew it water was rushing in EVERYwhere, and I couldn’t get my door open and whoa that water was pretty cold, aren’t we in the damn Caribbean here anyway?

Dr McGlaughlin stated separately that he was unsure of what would happen with a Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) splash-down. He decided that he would pull at 2,000 feet above the ocean but then became impatient and deployed at 2,300 feet.

Early Reflections on CAPS Pull #32 by Dick McGlaughlin in the Bahamas – Pull early, pull often! – Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association

Dick vividly describes their splash down as a hard landing, harder than he expected. But both he and Elaine were uninjured. The cabin quickly began to fill with water through the fresh air vents, so they felt urgency to get out of the plane. While Elaine’s door would not open, the pilot door opened easily and both got onto the wing with their life vests and life raft.

As you can see, the plane did not break up on impact and they appear to be waiting relatively comfortably considering the 4-man raft looks about the size of a postage stamp.

Currrus have stated that this is the 28th save (making for a total of 53 survivors) since the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System was launched. Although having read the account, I’m sure Dr McGlaughlin could equally have handled a standard water ditching – he was perfectly in control and making decisions in what is for all of us a frightening possibility: engine failure during a water crossing.

Don’t you just love a happy ending?


  • Here in Norway a accident report involving a Cirrus SR20 was recently released:

    The private aircraft was en route from Stavanger airport Sola to Tønsberg airport Jarlsberg when
    clouds made it necessary to turn back to maintain visual references. When turning, the aircraft
    entered clouds with severe icing and turbulence. Control was lost as the pilot in command, who had
    no experience with instrument flying, suffered from vertigo and as ice built up on the wing and
    most likely made the aircraft stall prematurely. A probable total loss with a fatal outcome was
    prevented by the pilot’s activation of the aircraft’s rescue parachute. The aircraft came down in
    rough terrain north of Ådneram in Sirdal with significant structural damage, but none of the four
    occupants sustained injury.”

    Obviously, the parachute saved the lives of these people aboard this plane. Interesting reading, although the pilot made full use of the autopilot during his 180 degree turn to avoid the weather, he still lost control when the plane entered clouds. Maybe technology makes pilots take on greater risks?

    The full report can be read here:

    • What a perfect use of the parachute to get them out of the situation. I think if you use the parachute the cirrus is a write-off anyway so the structural damage doesn’t much matter but if the pilot was disoriented, they were not going to land in any sensible attitude. Using the parachute definitely saved their lives.

      Thank you for the summary and the link – fascinating.

  • I most certainly do not believe the pilot could have easily landed in the water without a chute. If he doesnt want to stall he’s going to have to come in around 70 mph. Can you imagine taking your car 70 mph off a bridge? Not a pretty landing by far. If the chute threw her head into the dash, then a water landing would have throw it THROUGH the dash. Not to mention a possible somersault from the gear striking the water first. I’ll take a parachute landing any day over a crash landing no matter what the terrain.

Post a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.