The pilot of a King Air C90 that went into a spin while skydivers prepared to jump over South Africa on Oct. 14 says the plane departed controlled flight because too many jumpers got out of the rear exit at the same time. The dramatic video of the incident has gone viral and been featured on network news shows but it was all in a day’s work for the pilot, who identified himself as Xei. “The stall and subsequent spin happened when we allowed too many jumpers on the outside step, causing an aft center of gravity and excessive blocking of the airflow to the left horizontal stabilizer. The nose then pitched up beyond the controllability of the elevator,” he said in a post that accompanied the video on YouTube.

He said he quickly ran out of rudder and elevator and after the right wing came over he chopped power to both engines and began the recovery. “The aircraft behaved very well, and the recovery was surprisingly easy,” Xei wrote. “I pulled out as gently as possible as I did not want to stress the airframe. There was some additional instability when I pulled out of the dive and pushed the throttles forward to power up, as the one engine spooled up much quicker than the other and caused another asymmetrical moment.”

He also said the aircraft is intentionally flown with asymmetrical power for the release of jumpers to prevent them from being blasted by the propwash from the left engine. “Power is kept on the right engine to maintain altitude during the jump run, which typically takes 60 seconds,” he wrote. “A fair amount of right rudder is required to fly a straight line in this configuration. Pilot to maintain 95-90 kts IAS.” He said the incident was reported to authorities and the aircraft inspected. He said the operation has now limited the number of jumpers outside to five at a time and skydivers will be briefed to let go if the aircraft suddenly pitches up.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Baloney! Read the report the pilot submitted to the South African aviation authorities. Using that power configuration on jump run was a incident waiting to happen. The pilot was very lucky to be able to recover. If you watch the video after the spin started it took at least 3 attempts before he was able to break the stall. Using the right engine only to maintain altitude just made the spin even worse. Once jumpers start climbing outside of the plane you don’t maintain altitude, just airspeed. Third mistake is that the jumpers took way to long to climb out.

    No multi engine plane is certified for spins. The power settings this pilot was using duplicates VMCa demo, something that is not even recommended for training any more due to how dangerous this maneuver can be if not done correctly. Neither are single engine stalls.

    Amazing that this is just now making the news, it happened over a year ago.

      • I’m not aware of the earlier date. The Youtube information claims the jump was this year:

        Incident info released for general information / educational purposes to the aviation community by videographer Bernard Janse van Rensburg, with the full knowledge of the drop zone operations.
        -Skydive Mosselbay, South Africa
        -14 Oct 2021, 18h00
        -Beechcraft C90 King Air
        -Pilot +15 pax. All pax are fully qualified skydivers
        -Jump run altitude 16000’ AGL
        -6 skydivers in the ‘float’ position outside of the aircraft, including the videographer
        -All known protocols of the aircraft type were understood, practiced and exercised by the skydivers
        -This was the second load of a planned 20x jump event
        Suggested by ViralHog

        • Place is spelled Mosselbay.

          Beware in list of reports of agency caa.co.za the right column lists October 14 as ‘Modified’ date, most entries have that date, a different column has date of occurrence.

          An aircraft registration would help find the report – the web site’s search function does not work well.

    • Current training requirements don’t even teach recovery from full stall, just insipient stall. In my opinion that’s the wrong approach. A pilots first full stall break should be done with an instructor. That way the CFI can monitor to be sure that the stall happens at sufficient altitude to perform a safe recovery.

      • The T37 was a military trainer. All military trainers from Cessna 172s to jets like the T-38 Talon for the USAF and T-45 for the US Navy/Marines are spin approved as required by training syllabus. And this is nothing new either dating back to WWII trainers starting with the Boeing Stearman (B75N1). Just FYI.

  2. Flying jumpers is a departure from normal. Is the airplane certified for more than five jumpers hanging on outside of the airplane? I doubt it.

    I can see running the left motor at a reduced power setting vis a vis the right motor. As noted, to reduce propeller wash while maintaining altitude. What I would have done is to chop power to both motors as the airplane began to stall.

    Damn good piloting to be able to recover from the spin.

    All too many years ago I flew jumpers in a Cherokee Six. Six of those rascals as I recall. They were departing from the aft door. Taking too much time. Throttle back to neutral to reduce propeller wash. Before they could depart the airplane, the aft Cg caused the nose to continue pitching up with the control wheel fully forward. I hollered “get the hell out now”. The plane just wobbled and stalled straight head as they left. Fortunately, no spin ensued.

    Comes with the territory.

  3. I wonder what object fell out of the airplane during the last part of the recovery from the spin? Also, I didn’t think there would be skydiving activity on such a cloudy day. It didn’t seem like they ever had a clear view of the ground.

  4. Matt W–“Using the right engine only to maintain altitude just made the spin even worse. Once jumpers start climbing outside of the plane you don’t maintain altitude, just airspeed. Third mistake is that the jumpers took way to long to climb out.”

    Matt has it right. I’ve made 426 jumps, and flown skydivers in a variety of both single and multi-engine airplanes–including the Twin Otter and the Skyvan–plus DC-3s (including the C-47 now known as “That’s All, Brother!”. I also have more than 10,000 hours of King Air time.

    There is no need for thrust asymmetry at high altitude. Yes, it is easier on the skydivers hanging out the back, but PERHAPS it would encourage them to get out faster. Even worse is putting out the flaps–full flaps on a King Air is a lot of drag and slows the aircraft QUICKLY (especially on one engine and people hanging outside, as this pilot found out. Just take another 500′ or so, tell the skydivers “no more than 10 seconds in the door”, and keep the airspeed up to avoid the stall.

    Famed aviation entrepreneur and pioneer owner of turbine aircraft for civil skydiving Harry Barr would insist on a pilot/skydiver meeting before any big meet–“Here’s what we’re going to do, and NOT do”–anybody that doesn’t follow my rules finds another place to jump!” Being a “Skydiver Driver” isn’t about “giving the skydivers what they want”–it’s about TELLING them what they need to do–it’s a “gentleman’s agreement”–skydivers often aren’t well versed in aircraft operations (after all, they have a lot more takeoffs than landings!)–but passenger briefing and setting limits is part of being “Pilot in Command.”

  5. Perhaps Bertorelli could guess why so many jumpers were reluctant to get away from the airplane. He’s done many mass jumps.

    Once you are outside is too late to have second thoughts. My good brother Brian had a student freeze after going out the door, foot/hand/… still on step/strut of a high-braced-wing airplane. He kicked him. Determined on the ground that the Darwin Candidate and a buddy had reinforced themselves with booze beforehand. After that instructor Brian did a brief psychological evaluation of readiness of customer for first jump.

    • I’m not sure there’s a question there. When you’re off the step, there’s virtually zero chance of colliding with the airplane when it’s pointed nose down because its forward motion, even stalled, puts it a hundred feet away in less than a second. The camera aspect makes it look closer than it really was.

      Further, in a group, you’re looking at the other skydivers, not the airplane. I wouldn’t be surprised if none of them noticed until they landed. I was on the front step of an Otter that stalled under similar circumstances. I felt the turbulent air come over the wing and felt the lift sag. The pilot may have rolled it to kick us off. Only one other jumper noticed it. From the inside–where I also experienced a stall–the tail/door seems to rise as you exit, because the nose is pitching down. In my case, it grazed my leg as I went out.

      In speaking to an experienced King Air jump pilot about this today, he said it’s a bad idea to use asymmetric thrust at all, let alone as much as this pilot used. He practically had the left engine caged. You can put a group out there without that much of a cut–or any cut–and launch it just fine. We’ve been doing it for years. A disciplined group will put the floaters out there–the outside people–give a count and get off. These guys were out there for quite some time.

  6. I’m afraid I don’t have the experience to join in with the “here’s how it should have been done”, but the bottom line is it came out OK, everyone gained some experience, and thanks to the cameraman we got some super video of it all!

  7. I have more than 1K hours hauling skydivers. I have been a USPA Safety & Training Advisor for 20 years and a skydiving and flight instructor for 25 years. I have accumulated more than 3300 skydives and have flown a lot of machines. I have a couple of hours. Our family used to own a skydive facility and I still teach skydivers, including this past weekend. I’m an FAA certificated parachute rigger as well. My point here is this. I am constantly barraged with misinformation and ludicrous suppositions about skydiving and skydiving operations by people who know very little or nothing about skydiving.
    I don’t fly a King Air but I did have Mike Mullins come to our DZ with his King Air for many years. My family and our skydive family have spent many hours in Mike’s King Air and many others as well. If I really wanted any opinion on the piloting of this airplane in the context of skydiving, I would simply ask Mike Mullins. The man has been flying this plane in a skydiving operation for many, many years.
    I’m way past the point of listening to folks who have never been in any way involved in skydiving telling myself or others how things should be done or how things happened.
    Lots of things happen in skydive operations. Overall, skydiving has a pretty good safety record versus your run of the mill general aviation. If we ran it like those folks there would be a problem.
    In general terms, this is not even an incident. The reason it’s not is because the highly experienced commercial pilot flying this airplane handled the event in a professional manner. In order to fly skydivers we are required to have spin training. Why? Because these things happen. Skydive pilots get way more experience with takeoffs, landings, unusual attitudes, and weight and balance than any other pilot out there. These guys and gals fly sometimes scores of loads a day and hundreds of loads per year. They have learned to recognize and adapt to any number of situations in a moments notice and fly the airplane regardless.
    It’s distasteful to me for any bunch of “keep er straight and level” folks to comment on things they are not and will never be experienced in.
    Granted, this event could have been prevented. That could and has been said for many aircraft accidents and incidents. Bottom line here is, the guy went straight to his training as observed in the video. He recovered in seconds. Nobody was injured or killed and the airplane could be used again.
    I think it’s a slow aviation accident day here in the news and everyone has to pipe in and grind on those crazy skydivers with their inexperienced opinions and advice.
    My two cents ain’t even worth two cents. But I will say this. That guy can fly our jump plane any time. All of our pilots past and present are these kind. Solid pilots who know that experience is what you get when you were expecting something else. If you really want to comment from a place of experience on these skydive events, go out and get your commercial, get some spin training, go to the local DZ and get your butt in the left seat. Who knows, it might even loosen up that stiff collar you’re wearing there.

    • With all due respect, that’s a pretty cavalier attitude on what was clearly a dangerous situation (and it took more than one attempt to recover the aircraft). I wonder if you’d have had that same nonchalant attitude had this turned out different like the aircraft was overstressed and broke up, or was never recovered, or divers were hit by it. It’s not about “They made it out okay and the aircraft landed okay so SHUT UP!” This is about PREVENTION to never happen again. Nobody is questioning the pilot’s stick & rudder skills. They are questioning the overall operation procedures which, you didn’t even bother to bring up, have been modified.

    • Yip, not sure if the A400M has even now figured out how to get a full load of bodies out without them being blown to bits or scattered over vast amounts of territory.
      It is meant to be able to refuel helicopters too and that took a decade to figure out — so much propwash the choppers were being blown backwards.

      • The FJ jump out of them like we do the Herc. I don’t know if they have deflectors or screens though. The 141 had to use screens so you didn’t have to jump to avoid problems, you just stepped out and your feet would hit the airstream under the screen so you went horizontal like you just stepped on ice.

        I’m calling it a screen, but the holes were baseball sized and it looked like it weighed a few hundred pounds. I only ever got a brief look at it.

  8. Though I was never a jump pilot I do have a lot of experience in both the DHC-6 & KingAir in commuter operations. Being from Hawaii I remember a horrific accident involving Beech 18 over Aloha Stadium in 1981. 11 jumpers were scheduled to jump into the stadium that night for a UH vs USC football game. The last transmission from the pilot was he reported climbing to 3,500ft. The aircraft pan caked in three foot of water off Ford Island and only one jumper survived the accident. The video of this incident gives us all a glimpse of what the B18 pilot had to deal with but at 3,500ft and at night. I am a firm believer of learning from others mistakes. There are too many red flags for me flying airplanes with a short arm and a large group congregating around a single rear exit. Adding to it, a reduction of power on one engine while pulling the yoke back to maintain altitude. Yes, it all ended well in this video but there is a lesson to be learned here.

  9. I’m going to piggy back on something Paul Bertorelli said… I doubt the gyrations of the plane were as bad as they looked, just as it wasn’t as close to the jumpers as it looked.

    Great case for Upset Recognition and Recovery Training. We go deeply into the stall with a Sabreliner as part of the course at FRI. Never been worried despite the rapid bank angle gyrations and pitch rates.