Observations and Trends in Jump Plane Accidents

As I worked hard on updating, categorizing and tallying the accident files (links) I have on jump planes accidents I was amazed at some things I noticed and not surprised by others.  The ubiquitous Cessna 182 runs out of gas crashing short of the runway, not a surprise.  Really just dang frustrating.  But I noticed how many prop strikes of people occurred with Twin Otters.  In fact, in the list on this site back to 1982 it has more prop strikes on people than any other jump plane (4 of 8).  I find that amazing and understandable at the same time.  The very high wing easily walked under and the position of the engines NOT being in front of the nose sets up a situation that if not controlled precisely tragedy can occur.

I personally have almost had a prop strike with a jumper walking to my aircraft.  I travelled to a DZ that did not normally run a plane like the Twin Otter although it was no stranger.  The loading area was in a grassy area but the mockup used by jumpers to practice exits was IN FRONT of the plane relative to the “boarding area.”  There were no ropes, barriers or guides.  Skydivers should know not to walk into props.  Right?  Well guess what they do because they are human too and can make mistakes.

Read these reports and think about your operation.  Have you done all you can to set up a staging area that funnels jumpers/observers to the loading door? Do you use a loader with a hawkeye keen on jumpers wanting to give the pilot a special message (using smoke, long climb out, lost something in the right seat)?

6 replies on “Observations and Trends in Jump Plane Accidents”

One method that I saw Skydive Arizona use at the World Freefall Convention for the Twin Otters was to pull up to the loading area, and then turn the airplane about 30 degrees to the right. This forced the jumpers to approach from the rear. (They needed to do this for the Skyvan anyway.)

It would seem that this technique could be used in many situations. There is no reason that the exit door of an airplane needs to be right in line with where the jumpers are coming from.

Agreed. But if there is no guide as to where “the jumpers are coming from” there’s not much in the way to know how far to turn. The WFFC had loading tents to begin with. That funneled jumpers from one direction.

I think we have a pretty good system at Spaceland–we have the aircraft ops areas fenced off with openings for each of two loading areas. Between loading cycles, the boarding ladders are slotted vertically into sunken PVC tubing so the ladders continue the fence barrier, and only when the loader takes the ladder to the plane is that “gate” open. The plane pulls up with the wing forward of the fence opening for boarding and the loader supervises boarding.

I say we build a moat, and fill it with alligators.

Seriously, the loud noise from the engines, wearing gear and helmet, focusing on your skydive all add up to reduce the awareness of novice and experienced jumpers alike. Signage, training, and some of the things mentioned here will certainly contribute to safety, but a DZ needs to have someone dedicated to SAFETY in loading the aircraft.

I constructed a simple barricade system with 2 inch PVC pipe, yellow plastic chain, and cement filled 5 gallon buckets. I did this because over the course of a few weeks I had 4 or 5 separate incidents where someone (spectator) was busy looking at the camera screen and walking towards the running aircraft in an attempt to photograph a friend or relative boarding the aircraft.

It blows my mind the total lack of situational awareness most people have. Even with the fence up, I have my hands on the condition levers just in case.

It is amazing to watch the behavior of people in large numbers. I would watch the crowd gather to take pictures and attempt to climb on or touch the aircraft. I would then quietly move the barricade across the ramp. The crowd would all move towards the hanger and the noise would settle down and everything returned to order. Amazing.

Proper safety procedures and devices reduces my stress to acceptable levels at the drop zone. We also price observer rides high enough to discourage the practice. This, and proper supervision by our staff, makes ground operations much safer than in years past.

I had an incident in the summer while towing gliders. I was in a super cub and one of the weekend cadets approached me while the engine was running. He was trying to pass on an instruction. I shouted to him to get away from the aircraft but he wasn’t listening so I had to shut down. The thing that worried me was that if he got distracted after the conversation and then walked forward into the prop. Would I have been help accountable for that?

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