Just Days After Centennial Miracle, Another Midair, And Another CAPS Pull


The aviation community—and much of the rest of the population—continues to buzz over last week’s miraculously no-injury midair collision at Centennial Airport in Denver. But meanwhile, a second midair, this one involving a pair of Navy jet trainers, took place on Monday in Texas, and on Saturday, in Wisconsin’s heavily wooded Kettle Moraine forest region, the second Cirrus parachute pull within a few days is being credited with saving the lives of all three aboard.

As confirmed by the Navy, two of its T-45 jet trainers, for as-yet-unknown reasons, collided approximately nine miles from their base at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas. One was able to return to base and land safely, while the student and instructor in the second jet safely ejected before it crashed near Ricardo, Texas. One of the crew members was taken to a hospital for minor injuries. An official communication from the Chief of Naval Air Training confirmed details of the 11 a.m. CDT accident.

The T-45s were operated by Training Squadron 22 (VT-22) the “Golden Eagles.” According to The Drive, the training syllabus consists of 131 sorties covering 162.1 hours in the T-45, including air combat maneuvering, air-to-ground operations and carrier qualification.

On Saturday, May 15, witnesses on the ground in Whitewater, Wisconsin, one of whom described the weather as “heavy fog and mist and cloud cover,” heard what turned out to be a Cirrus SR22 flying overhead. They reported that the engine subsequently went silent, and they called 911.

In a press release, the Whitewater Fire Department posted that it was dispatched at 9:19 p.m. to investigate. According to the report, the pilot placed a 911 call from the Cirrus, which was lodged in the tree canopy approximately 75 feet above the ground. The fire department reported, “It took crews approximately five hours, utilizing rope systems, to safely extract three occupants from the single-engine aircraft.” No one was injured and the pilot and passengers “were quickly reunited with their families.”

Efforts to remove the aircraft from the treetops are “ongoing.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. So WHY did the Cirrus mentioned after the evidently totally unrelated story of two USN T-45 trainers pull the BRS handle? Was it the now familiar flight from VMC into IMC by a non- or unproficient instrument pilot… the problem being the pilot pushed the envelop because everyone knows the great and wonderful Cirrus autopilot can fly the plane – except when it doesn’t? It seems a lot of Cirrus chute pulls are pilot created emergencies of one sort or another. Certainly the “miraculous save” of the Cirrus that blew through 17R and the separation between 17R and 17L, then rammed the Metroliner on final just prevented a Darwin moment AND propagation of some highly suspect genes.

    • I wonder why Cirrus drivers (I hesitate to call them pilots) feel the need to push the envelope. I recently was on approach into KPNE and ATC warned me of a Cirrus flying a practice instrument approach 4 miles behind me at over 150 knots. That’s really fast for an approach which should normally be flown around 100 knots. The Centennial Cirrus was at nearly 170 knots at 600 feet in the pattern when he should have been about 90 knots. I know that Cirrus instruction is top rate, but I guess you can’t teach judgement.

      • I’ve seen a bunch of Mooney and Bonanza pilots doing the same thing. It’s just that there are more rich active pilots who fly Cirruses these days than the others.

        And sometimes I’ll fly the Cherokees I have access to at Category B airspeeds just for the practice (it forces you to speed up your scan). As long as I stick to the Category B minimums, there’s nothing wrong with that, particularly if I’m not planning to land (if I am planning to land, then that would create a problem, so obviously I’d fly at the Cat A speed instead).

    • The purpose of CAPS is not to prevent pilots from screwing up, it is to prevent them from paying with their lives (and the lives of their passengers) when they do screw up! CAPS is there to take the death penalty off the table.

  2. I think the theme of the article is parachutes saving lives. It sounds as if the Cirrus had an engine failure in IMC, when a CAPS deployment may have been the only survivable course of action.

    • The purpose of CAPS is not to prevent pilots from screwing up, it is to prevent them from paying with their lives (and the lives of their passengers) when they do screw up! CAPS is there to take the death penalty off the table.

      • Robert, I agree that the CAP intent is to offer another layer of safety to the pilot and other occupants of Cirrus aircraft. But… for many (all?) of us, our risk taking rises to the level where our subconscious tells us we have equivalent (i.e. acceptable) risk of loss. Kinda like the drivers who, before the freeways were slathered in de-ice whenever freezing conditions and moisture are forecast, would slow down and be very cautious on winter roads. Tain’t so now. It’s a rare day that I don’t see 70-75 mph driving on winter highways in the PNW.

        It seems that the very capable automation of Cirrus (and other high end aircraft), plus the added risk mitigation of the BRS actually encourages some bizarre risk taking… like flying into IMC without the skills or proficiency…, flying into known ice because of a weeping wing and prop, or blasting into (and THROUGH) the traffic pattern at cruise airspeeds. Depending upon circumstances, this risky pilot behavior transfers to others huge risks. Remember, only the pilot and passengers of the Cirrus receive any risk mitigation benefits (i.e., second chances) from the CAP system or the Cirrus automation. The pilot of the Cirrus created his own emergency that, unfortunately could have killed a bystander (another pilot). So far, that’s exactly what appears to have happened in last weeks Cirrus/Metroliner midair.

  3. So… two Navy planes collide during formation flight training… parachute saves the crew.
    Another Cirrus pilot, flys into conditions well over his head, likely ran out of fuel and dropped his parachute plane lucky to miss people on the ground… but still a save.
    Another cruel arm chair pilot review of another pilots misfortune, and aircraft insurance just went up again.
    I have to agree, many accidents I’ve reviewed lately seem to be an over confident pilot doing something he couldn’t do in a less advanced aircraft, and ends up to fast or to slow with nowhere to go to avoid the crash, and a parachute saves them… sometimes.

    • What you really have to ask yourself Richard, is, when are they going to start packing parachutes with airplanes? So, when the reserve parachute fails to open the not so lucky parachute dude can crawl into his reserve airplane and fly away. Kind of like a double engine failure.

    • Does that imply that you drive a car with no seatbelts, airbags, or ABS brakes? Because those too can lead to overconfident drivers getting into situations above their skill level. Too many drivers also buy cars with more performance than they can handle.

      If this Cirrus pilot had to pull the CAPS because of something he/she did stupidly, then hopefully they have learned from this about what not to do. If it was because of the engine quitting for some unknown reason (meaning, the pilot didn’t just run a tank dry), then CAPS turned a lousy situation into a survivable one. Either way, it seems CAPS does its job of saving pilots’ lives.

      • If you so choose, yes, that is exactly what I am implying. Cars were around and being driven well before any of those supposed safety devices ever existed as a thought. The technology has changed in a big way over the years. People have not and never will.

        • And yet, more lives have been saved so…..Is it so bad to save lives in aviation, even when the pilot FUBARs.

          Maybe CAPS breed over confidence, but I dare say for those who survive, they may not bomb into a traffic pattern, fly VFR into IFR, and/or be thankful they still have a life. Then some may try again and that’s up to Darwin and fate (I’d feel bad for the passengers though).

  4. A topic of much debate in the aerobatic community: In the event of an engine failure, do you bail out, or try to land? Aerobatics airplanes glide like bricks, so what you see under you is where you’re landing.

    I was always in the stay-with-the-airplane camp. I get a steel cage, an aircraft certificated with crash protection, and a 5 point safety belt.

    The other side has a point though. For example, if you’re over a forest, the odds of you smacking a tree and killing yourself during a forced landing is pretty high, whereas the parachute is virtually guaranteed to get you safely to at least the tree tops.

  5. I get the idea that some pilots might take chances they might not otherwise because of the chute or other tech. The trick is, there are hundreds of things making one plane marginally safer than another or vice versa.

    This used to come up a LOT, in the early 2000’s when talking Diamond v Cirrus. The anti Cirrus crowd would sometimes blame the chute, or that Cirrus was marketing to non pilots. The main reason Cirrus supposedly had a poor record was that their pilots were lax and dependent on the chute. Other, less popular subjects included the wing design, spin testing, and Avidyne avionics. At the same time, Diamond was supposedly only a safer choice because mostly pilots who highly prioritized safety bought them. Forget all the design features, it was, like Cirrus, a result of the respective pilot pools that made their numbers, in this case, embarrassing to the rest on safety.

    At the time I was pretty sure both theories had some little truth, but likely only responsible for a small margin of the results. Of course, I had the advantage of talking to lots of pilots interested in buying the planes. Most Cirrus buyers I spoke with didn’t buy the chute for themselves. They bought it because it fooled their spouses and other potential passengers. They bought the performance, the comfort, the new design, or even just the only thing new they had ever flown in besides perhaps a Cessna. Many went to a Cirrus traveling sales show and never looked at anything else.

    In a few years of selling, I NEVER lost a sale to Cirrus IF I could get the buyer a demo in a new Diamond or Mooney. NOT ONCE!

    There’s a lot of data now on these aircraft. My opinion has not changed on the idea that the chute adds much more safety than it loses because of how it changed the pilot’s attitude. The safety record is the result of the design, build quality, and the training available. Same for Diamond, Mooney, etc.

    Cirrus has changed the wing, changed the avionics, and the pilot group has done amazing work on training. I think people can reasonably by a G2 or later Cirrus, get the recommended training, and feel reasonably safe. I’d still recommend a Diamond or Mooney, but it’s reasonable to buy an SR22 I’d strongly recommend looking at your options though.

  6. At this point., the facts presented are a Cirrus, report of “heavy fog and mist and cloud cover,” and the engine going silent, then the pilot deployed the CAPS. Last fact, all three lives in the Cirrus are doing fine ( we don’t even know the laundry condition at this point!) We can speculate all we want, but until more hard facts are released, this is all we have to go on. As an old relative often said, “If, if if – if your aunt had balls she’d be your uncle”.