2019 Skydiving Aircraft Accidents: Year in Review
Looking back at the year 2019 in jump plane accidents for the United States, the record again showed improvement in the total number of accidents. There were only four incidents that fit the NTSB definition of “aircraft accident.” However, a low number of accidents is still not zero, and having a low number of accidents doesn’t change the heart-rending loss of 11 lives on the King Air crash in Hawaii. That hole can never be filled; it will be felt forever by those involved at the field and the friends and families of those who were lost. Two of the accidents only have Preliminary accident reports listed on the NTSB website, one has a place holder Preliminary entry, and one at Pepperell, MA, has a Factual report released.
This website has always been focused on the various flight jobs a jump pilot may have to perform during their employment, and the safety of the people and aircraft the DZ owner/manager has entrusted to them. Thus, when we discuss jump plane accidents, these all involve a jump plane and possibly skydivers on board during skydiving operations, maintenance flights, and ferry flights.
Only four times in the last 20 years have fatalities in jump plane accidents reached double digits. Twenty-two years ago, in 1997, there were 27 fatalities. It only took one accident in 2019 to put the record over the double-digit mark. This can easily make the year seem like one of the worst ever, and again, I reiterate the loss of 11 lives is a loss for us all. The last time fatalities reached double digits was 2007, when two fatal accidents cost 15 lives. And finally, of the four double-digit fatality years in the last 20 years (1999, 2001, 2007 and 2019), a King Air 90 was involved in three while the other one was a Cessna 208 Caravan.
Of note in jump plane incidents (when the amount of damage or injury does not rise to the level of accident according to NTSB 830), there were several Cessna 208 Caravan landing incidents. One was filmed going past idle thrust and into beta before touchdown, causing the tail to lose airflow and slam the nose down, collapsing it. Another similar incident happened in the northeast. Pilots, owners and operators would be advised to ensure that their pilots are fully aware of the Flight Manual checklists and limitations for landing.
The good news is that the industry has continually improved training and exchanged information faster than ever before. How to manage a safe operation is out there for the taking; people just have to work at it a little. A whole world of information is available through this site, USPA, mentors, and Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/DiverDrivercom/.
Just two years ago in 2017, there were no fatal jump plane accidents for the first time since 1982. It is reasonable to believe that if the number of jump plane accidents stays low, the likelihood of a fatal jump plane accident should also remain low. All operators have a strong duty to ensure that the plane and pilot are both fully maintained, trained, and monitored for proper operation. Incidents with larger aircraft can impact many more lives than with a C182, but any is still too many.
We are all in this together, so spread the word: Training works, maintenance is cheaper than accident lawsuits, and smiles in the sky attract far more clients than memorials and wreaths.