DC-3 Crash Z-Hills, FL: Things That Make You Go Mmm…

During the Phoenix Z-Hills Easter Boogie (April 1993), Tracey & I were on the DC3 Phoenix Air with our group, taking off for our final jump of the day. We had had a good days skydiving, in fact we had had a great few weeks skydiving with friends old and new, many of who were making their final jump of the Boogie prior to leaving for home the next day. As we left the ground our spirits were high. Who but those other skydivers seated around us could understand the range of emotions we felt as we were lifted away from the ground to enter our playground, a playground that only a very few, very lucky souls ever get to experience and explore as fully as we have done so many times!

A few seconds later, at an altitude of only 350 feet we lost an engine! We glanced at each other and our eyes spoke to all ‘it’s no big deal, a DC3 can maintain, even climb on one engine’. Then a moment later, contrary to what we all believed even knew from previous experiences to be true, this time things were different. We realized almost instantly that this time we were in the midst of a potentially catastrophic situation! A moments hush descended upon us and then, as if time itself had slowed to a point where seconds had become minutes, as the aircraft sank towards the earth we each prepared for the inevitable impact in our own way. Strangely there was no screaming or panic. Maybe though this is not so strange, as most of us are conditioned to reaction in life threatening situations to that which we have seen portrayed at the movies or on TV. Few people will ever really find themselves in a life threatening situation and have the time to take it all in. If and when if ever they do, they may be as astounded as many of us were that day to find it really isn’t that scary, there is no time to be scared, not for those that wish to survive! As those around me braced themselves, I was brought to the sudden and heart grabbing realization that I, amongst all on board was not strapped in! Even though, almost a year to the day before this day the sport had lost many good friends in the Perris Valley Otter crash, we hadn’t yet all learned the lessons of that terrible day.  Quickly I hunkered down on the floor, braced myself tightly and mentally chastised myself for being such a fool!

Before I had finished berating myself we hit! Now you could feel the tension in the air, though I cannot say for sure whether I was aware of screams or any utterances at all, other than the noise of the aircraft breaking up as we crossed the ground. We had descended in a long glide rather than at a steep angle, even so the impact was considerable. We had gone through high tension powerlines during our descent and now, after going across a slight rise in the ground and rising up from it for another brief moment, we bumped down again and were then sliding across the earth! As we bumped and grinded our way across the ground for what seemed like an eternity, I tightened my grip and prepared for the inevitable sudden stop. Suddenly we spun off to the right and impacted something, though we were not stopping! Then another impact and those on the benches fell down on top of those of us on the floor, still strapped in their seats! We bumped and grinded some more and I’m sure that all as well as I, felt that our life clocks had overrun their time and the curtains were now closing in on our lives! And then, the motion stopped. As we looked around us reality hit, we realized that up until this point we all seemed to be alive and seemingly in relatively good shape!

But we were still in the aircraft and though there was no evidence of fire or smoke at that moment, we knew we had to get out and away before the aircraft caught alight! We vacated the area as quickly as we could, being sure to leave no one behind. As the last person came through the jump door I quickly glanced inside, in the cockpit area I could see a pair of dangling legs hanging down through the pilots escape hatch. Quickly I jumped up inside and ran to the cockpit, pushing Herman our pilot up and out of the hatch as fast as I could I turned and ran down the cabin, through the door and kept on running to where the others were gathered, all the time expecting the aircraft to explode or erupt into flames at any moment, which thankfully it never did!

The end result of this incident was one wrecked DC3 and a pilot with bruised ribs. The rest of us were virtually unhurt, the collective injuries between the forty of us were a sprained ankle and a few small abrasions. In my opinion the deciding factor to the relatively happy end result of this incident was the expertise and calm control of the pilot Herman Reinhold. I believe we owe our lives to him and the skill and presence of mind he used that day!

Nevertheless, the end result may have turned out differently for many if they had been as lax as I and had not buckled up!

Seatbelts in jump planes are provided for your safety and the safety of others around you, use them! You may not be as lucky as I was in this incident, if you fail to buckle up!


From Martin Evans

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