This Week’s Most Amazing Stories

5 May 17 8 Comments

This has been an amazing week for aviation news with unbelievable stories and videos seemingly coming from all directions. Anna and I have been posting every day to the Fear of Landing Facebook page but I wanted to share the best here.

First off, the incredible crash landing in Everett, Washington. The pilot had just taken off from Paine Field in a Piper Cherokee when the aircraft lost power. The pilot did not make the rookie mistake of turning back but instead immediately set up for landing, coming down about 2,000 feet from the end of runway 34L.

Amazingly, the pilot and his passengers walked away! There was only one minor injury reported, by a passenger in a car which does make me wonder if they sprained their neck watching it happen! AOPA reports that a quick survey on Google Earth showed ‘no appealing options’ for an emergency landing after a low-altitude power failure, as the area is heavily built up.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, a skydiver is lucky to be alive after failing to get clear of the aircraft. The 45-year-old skydiver jumped from a Cessna 182 at about 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) but then tangled his foot in a cable. Apparently (bearing in mind I know nothing about skydiving) he had failed to cut the static line which connects the aircraft to the deployment bag? In any event, he was trapped in position, dangling under the aircraft with no way to free himself.

The Local Denmark, an English language newspaper in Denmark, has translated quotes from those involved who spoke to the television news.

“As soon as his instructor, who jumped before him, was able to get radio contact with the pilot and people on the ground, a rescue operation was started,” duty officer Jens Claumarch of Mid and West Jutland Police told news agency Ritzau.

“At that point, the aircraft was down to a height of around 500 metres, but went up to around a kilometre in case he came loose and needed to use his parachute.”

The pilot actually had no idea that the jump had gone wrong until ground control notified him. He described it as a nightmare experience. The aircraft, followed by a helicopter ambulance, circled to burn fuel for almost an hour before attempting a landing at Lindtorp airfield.

On the ground, they foamed the landing areas so that the skydiver’s impact could be softened. Meanwhile, the pilot came in for the slowest possible landing.

“On the way down I was thinking whether I was about to kill a man. What will happen? There was only one method left, and that was to try and land with him.”

The skydiver was dragged along the grass for about 200 metres (650 feet) but amazingly suffered only some grazes and a groin strain. The duty officer’s comment was spot on.

“There’s not much need for him to play the lottery this week. He’s used up all his luck,”

And finally in not such a happy ending, the runway at Halfpenny Green near Wolverhampton was torn up after a de Havilland Vampire put on full power. There was a small airshow in progress so there’s a number of videos but I think this one by Graham Innes is the best.

Hard not to wince!

The 1952 Vampire Goblin is the same one that the Vampire Preservation Group put up for sale last year. They believe it to be the only airworthy de Havilland Vampire T11 in the world (and they should know) and CAA has given special permission for it to maintain its authentic RAF colours. I’m not sure if one of the original display pilots was flying at the airshow (they did no airshows in 2016) or if the aircraft has been passed on to someone else. If I had the money, I totally would have bought it.

I have to admit I was initially a bit surprised that the pilot simply continued with the debris flying everywhere like that but, as he can’t see behind him, possibly he had no idea until afterwards? Certainly, the Vampire landed on a different runway. The aircraft was undamaged and flew again later that day.

In any event, that’s going to cost a pretty penny to get fixed up although apparently the runway was due for refurbishing anyway. I’m just glad that the Vampire is OK. :D

Category: Fun Stuff,


  • That first story reminded me of what happened to a friend of mine, the late Nico Pilger. At the time, probably around 1971, he was an instructor with the Rotterdam Flying Club. I forgot the type of aircraft, it may have been a Beagle Pup or perhaps a Jodel. If I remember well, it had some form of automatic carburetor heat.
    Rotterdam had (and may well still have) a grass runway parallel to the main runway.
    He was taking off with a student from the grass when the engine lost power just after getting airborne. It may have been carburetor ice. Anyway, full application of carb. heat did not restore power, they were heading for a housing estate half a mile at the end of the grass runway.
    To avoid the residential area, the instructor decided to turn right and head for the large grass area at the end of the main runway 24.
    The club house was just near that area.
    The aircraft clipped a hedge with the main undercarriage. It should not have made a difference, except that large concrete drainage pipes, awaiting installation, had been lying just behind the hedge, not visible to my friend. So when the wheels clipped the hedge, instead of harmlessly passing through the leaves, they hit the pipes. The aircraft bounced, swiveled and landed in the club car park….
    On top of the student’s car !
    Nobody was injured, but the aircraft and the car were badly damaged. It made headline news, Nico had handled the situation well so I don’t think there is any harm mentioning his name and this incident.

    • Oh my goodness! I bet that was headline news. And I can’t help but wonder if the student ever dared get near an aircraft again….

  • The first video is amazing. I’ve heard that car crashes in movies require help to produce such a fireball; I’m stunned that the people in the plane could walk away after it made such a display coming down.

    I never did static line jumps (just tandem and AFF), but AFAIK the line isn’t supposed to be cut; it’s supposed to pull loose a pin that holds the rig closed. (A ripcord goes through a loop that’s the final step in closing a rig; once it’s pulled the rig goes through several steps so that the canopy opens smoothly but slowly enough not to give the jumper the world’s worst wedgie.) My guess is that this jumper got the “line” (1″ webbed strap in the samples I saw) wrapped around his leg so it never pulled the pin. (IIRC the strap is long enough that an unsupervised jumper could have put put a foot through a loop on a mismanaged strap while still in the plane.) I can understand somebody hanging upside down at a hundred knots not being able to unwind such a mess, but I think the load manager is at fault here; there should have been someone (besides the pilot) still in the plane and competent to sort this out. (The wrap may have been too messy for this.) In any case, cutting the strap would not let the main canopy open, and if the jumper is still on static line he’s probably not competent with emergency procedures (if a reserve deployment could even work with a strap running down the jumper’s back).

    • Thanks for clarifying that! I was a bit surprised that the instructor jumped *before* him, when I’d have thought he would make sure the student made it safely out of the plane first. Or is the point to be on the ground already when he jumps?

      • I don’t know what the rules are at that drop zone or in that country. In the US decades ago beginners wore helmets with receivers and somebody on the ground guided them in (e.g. “Make an S-turn so you won’t overshoot the landing zone.”) but this didn’t have to be the same person who saw the student out of the plane. (In theory an instructor could be down first (and pick up a transmitter) even if exiting after the student, as the instructor would be licensed to open at a lower altitude — but the talk-down person should be speaking as soon as the canopy is open, especially if there’s an incomplete opening that the student can fix.) I wonder whether this was too small an operation to have enough people to teach safely.

  • I never did a jump myself. I dropped them on several occasions. I agree: an instructor should be the last (wo)man out, more so if there are novices. Chip did clarify a question I had myself: the static line is just there to pull the pin and open the canopy. The length of the line is to ensure that the jumper is clear of the aircraft before the chute opens.
    The para club I did some drops for required their pilots to make at least one jump. So one day I was to discuss my initiation with the instructor. In those days there was no such thing as a tandem jump, I am talking about the late ‘sixties / early ‘seventies.
    Before starting discussions and ground training I was to drop a few experienced guys, including the instructor. It was to be a demo jump for a show of some kind. The instructor misjudged his landing, which was to be in a football stadium. Getting below the level of the tribunes he experienced a sudden drop in windspeed, the result was a trip in an ambulance to the hospital.
    My enthusiasm, never really that great, was gone after that. I never made a jump after all. Safer to stay in the aircraft. I only once suffered an engine failure just after take-off. It was poor maintenance: The Super Cub I was flying had been parked outside for weeks and it had rained hard. Water had accumulated in the tank.
    Yes, I thoroughly drained them and collected about half a milk bottle of water before the petrol came out clean.
    What I did not realise was: the fuel pick-up from the tank was perhaps one or two inches forward of the rear of the tank.
    The Super Cub is a tail dragger. Water in the tank, behind the fuel line, did not come out by draining. But it did once the tail came up during the take-off. The PA 18 has a small collector tank in the fuselage to even out the fuel supply, so it took perhaps half a minute or more before the water reached the carburetor. By that time I was well and truly airborne. There was a “Luftaufsicht”, a German-speaking controller in the tower but he never even heard my “Mayday”. I landed in the next field and dragged the aircraft back through the unlocked fire gate onto the airport. By that time my unscheduled landing had been noticed and a car with two mechanics waited for me. They drained the tanks again and invited me to take off again, which I declined.
    The aircraft was put in the hangar with the tail supported in a horizontal position. Another half liter of water came out.
    When we had an incident like that we were expected to write in the incident report: “probable cause Vergaser Vereisung (=carburetor ice).” We never heard back from the Luftfahrtbundesamt (German CAA), everyone got away with it.
    My friend Nico – the man who landed on his student’s car – once had an engine failure when towing a banner over a small town in Germany. In those days there was no chute attached, if he had dropped it it would have gone straight down like a spear. So he dragged it away from the town. By that time, he was running out of options for an emergency landing but he saw a nice green field and aimed for that. To his surprise, what he had assumed to have been grass, turned out to be winter corn, already a meter high.
    As the Piper sank in, the corn stalks wound themselves around the wheels and pulled him into a nose-over.
    The actual cause was a broken float pin in the carburetor.
    His entry in the incident was… , you guess it: “wahrscheinliche Ursache Vergaser Vereisung” (probable cause carburetor ice).
    But Nico had made a good decision and was hailed as a hero (rightfully so) in a local newspaper with a photo of him standing at the upside-down aircraft, one arm nonchalantly over one of the main wheels.
    Another pilot, a Norwegian, had written a complaint in the logbook about the heater. It only gave a blast of (very) hot air over the right foot. His German was rudimentary, he wrote (in halting German): “Heater broken, foot hot like lamb chop”.
    On a subsequent flight he landed in a field because he thought the aircraft was on fire. Smoke came into the cockpit. The mechanics had “solved” the heater problem by stuffing rag in the outlet.
    The rag, used previously to wipe oil off the aircraft, started to burn and oily smoke came into the cabin.
    The pilot was arrested. When he realised that the aircraft was not about to go up in flames, he wanted to go back in to retrieve his personal belongings. Meanwhile, the “Polizei” had arrived, and mistook him for a thief. He did not speak sufficient German to explain and he could not identify himself because his papers were still in the aircraft. When he tried to shake himself free and get back into the aircraft, he was handcuffed and charged with “resisting arrest”.
    But no, we did not jump out of the aircraft, at least not until it was safe to do so. In my considered opinion, in 9999 out of a 10000 cases, the only safe place to exit an aircraft is on the ground, engine turned off, parking brake set, master switch off. NOT 1000 feet or more up in the sky, dangling from a flimsy nylon canopy.

    • Tastes differ. I admit I haven’t jumped since just after my 40th birthday (let’s not talk about how long ago that was), but that involved a cluster of circumstances including a new, very time-eating job. Canopies may \look/ flimsy, but I suspect every piece of material in a rig is at least as strong as most of the material in a light plane.

  • Chip, funny thing that. I had been convinced to act in accordance with the club rules and make one jump, albeit reluctantly.
    When the instructor landed in hospital – actually he made a hard landing in a football stadium, his “landing” in hospital was after the blue lights and siren were switched off, on a stretcher – he was out of action for a good while. And so the talk about me starting training was postponed, as it turned out indefinitely. It did not rouse my desire to try. Even though I know that parachute nylon is very strong. I did more than 3500 hours flying advertising banners, they are made of parachute nylon !
    France has a new President-elect. I once flew the French President himself, an event that at least for me would have been more suitable to be used in slapstick comedy. But the President never even knew.
    In 1972 I put a deposit on a car, a Citroen “Light Fifteen”. It was somewhere near Toulouse. I was to collect it later, as it turned out months later. So it was not until I think April 1973 when I got a lift to Toulouse. It was a strange feeling to see the Cessna 310 take-off with someone else at the controls.
    The garage had promised me to have the car ready. I had insurance arranged in the Netherlands where I lived as I wanted to drive it all the way home.
    Of course, they had done nothing. It was still sitting in the muck, four deflated tyres and a dead battery.
    Somehow, they got the engine running and four tyres inflated. One was too far gone, so no spare either. The brake fluid was something strange in French cars of the era: I think it was vegetable-based, whatever. It had degraded and the brakes needed pressure on the pedal – lots of pressure. When we drained them later it was like dark syrup.
    Before leaving Toulouse I went back to the airport as I had bought a number of parachutes for the para club. They were not interested in the canopies but in the harnesses. The Citroen had a tiny boot but a very large amount of room in the back, so I filled it with parachutes.
    The then French President Pompidou had died and I picked up a few French soldiers who had been part of the parades that had been held all over France. I noticed the parachute emblems on their uniforms and told them to look in the back. Their mouths fell open when they saw all the parachutes.
    Against all odds, I did make it back to Amsterdam. There was no EU in these days, so there was border control into Belgium but very slack in the then Benelux so I crossed the border into the Netherlands at night without stopping.
    My car was an old Mercedes 180 which had been damaged in an accident, just at Schiphol airport. I had it parked at the hangar, damaged front facing the building.
    The next day was Sunday and I delivered the parachutes, and kept a canopy for myself. A great tent for a garden party !
    Monday morning I had to fly again. I just parked at the hangar when another car stopped alongside, four guys got out and identified themselves as plain-clothes customs officials. They wanted to know what I was doing driving a French registered car. Perplexed I asked how they knew that I was Dutch. They told me that my style of driving was a give-away.
    I told them that I had intended to declare the vehicle at the airport which, after all, can handle any customs goods.
    “That is what they all say when caught” was the reply. My car was being confiscated. Did I really think that it would be a matter of a few minutes, how had I been expecting to get home?
    I pointed at my Mercedes, the damage not in view.
    They were mollified a bit, but still, one got in my Citroen. Right at that moment one of the tyres deflated.
    Spare? Flat already. A mechanic was called who discovered that there was no valve at all. The garage in France had simply put masking tape over it and, amazingly, I had done about 800 km or so on it.
    I proposed to get the valve fixed and bring the car to the customs office after my return from a flight. Reluctantly, I was given the keys back.
    On return, the Citroen was sitting on all 4, with proper valves in the tyres. I brought the car to the customs office and was treated very well.
    In fact, I was only fined for driving a car without road tax. And charged a very reasonable amount of import duty.
    My involvement with parachutes ended, but I did fly the French President (Giscard d’Estaing) years later.

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