Midair Pilot Describes Escape From Burning Plane

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Pilot Matt Fandler, who escaped under canopy from an airborne, broken and burning Cessna 182 after a midair with a Cessna 185 prior to a planned formation skydive, has spoken with NBC News in an exclusive interview recorded for Dateline. All 11 participants and one of two aircraft survived the event. Fandler, who flew the 182, suffered the most extensive physical injuries but came down safely under his own emergency parachute. He received 25 stitches that attend to cuts on his body resulting from his airplane’s windshield shattering into the cockpit after the two aircraft made contact at roughly 12,000 feet. “I didn’t see anything … I just heard a bang and the windshield immediately shattered,” Fandler told NBC. Unbeknownst to the pilot, his aircraft had also lost a wing to the impact. As the aircraft rolled and nosed over Fandler soon learned he had no control and “thought it was in my best interest to not be in this aircraft.”

Fandler said before he even turned his head, he’d “pulled the yoke back to my chest” and “there was no reaction from the plane.” He unclipped his lap belt and looked right toward the 182’s door, which is when he learned it was gone — along with the airplane’s right wing. Fandler says he reached out and grabbed the doorframe and “jumped head first.” As he fell, he saw his airplane falling toward the ground with one wing missing. The skydivers, who were equipped with helmet cameras to record what was supposed to be a formation jump, also witnessed the aircraft falling. At least one of them, Daniel Chandler, told interviewers that he did not know if Fandler was still inside of the airplane and attempted to catch up with the falling fuselage in an attempt to free the pilot. Chandler says he was unable to catch up with the falling wreck as it sped earthward. “It was gone and there was nothing I could do. I had to accept that there was nothing I could do,” he told NBC. Meanwhile, Fandler was in free fall, trying to remember what he’d learned during two tandem practice jumps. The pilot says his landing was “decently hard” but he was able to watch as the pilot of the 185 that survived the impact landed safely on the airfield. Fandler said he plans to fly again and hopes to move on to bigger and faster aircraft.