Aircraft parachutes are a life-saving innovation in general aviation, but as spectacular video footage from a recent safety investigation shows, they are also a potential hazard for first responders to an aircraft crash.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued its report into the crash of a Cirrus SR22 during a night training flight at Orange Airport, NSW, on 15 May 2018. The pilot and flight instructor were seriously injured, and the aircraft destroyed. Footage from the airport’s closed-circuit television showed that the aircraft’s rocket-deployed parachute system discharged uncommanded about 9 minutes after the accident occurred.
‘After a collision with terrain any deformation of the fuselage can put a rocket-deployed parachute recovery system’s activation cable under abnormally high tension, making it likely to deploy with any movement of the wreckage,’ the ATSB report said.
In Australia, rocket-deployed parachute systems are installed in light and sport aircraft including the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, the Pipistrel Virus and Sinus and the Sting TL-2000. They can also be retrofitted to the Cessna 150/152, 172 and 182 series.
Aircraft maker Cirrus says its aircraft parachute system (CAPS) has saved 142 people. ‘The jury is in. The case is closed. CAPS works and it saves lives,’ Cirrus says. But the company says appropriate and ongoing training is needed for the parachute system to save all the lives it potentially could. Our commitment to CAPS training only gets stronger when we realise that over 100 serious injuries and fatalities could have had different outcomes if the pilot-in-command of the Cirrus deployed CAPS,’ it says.
The crash happened at the end of a touch-and-go circuit, when the aircraft struck the ground and collided with a fence, coming to a stop inverted. The ATSB found it was likely the pilot became spatially disorientated after the initial pitch-up during the go-around manoeuvre, which obscured the horizon, resulting in a loss of control at low-level.