Superior, WI Formation Flight Crash Commentary

SUPERIOR, Wis. – Two planes carrying skydivers collided in midair Saturday evening in far northwest Wisconsin, but no major injuries were reported.

Formation flying skydivers adds a whole new level of complexity to your job.  Do you have formal training in flying formations?  Are you going by a few “suggestions” by the local folks?  This can be the difference between a nice change of pace in your Diver Driving and complete disaster as seen in this accident.  You must have a plan.  You must then fly that plan or abort the drop/formation.  You must have positive two way communication.  YOU MUST NEVER RUN INTO ANOTHER PLANE IN THE FORMATION!

From watching the video provided several times I am struck by how fast the loss of separation happens as the climbout begins.  The first jumper goes out and inexplicably gets in FRONT of the right wing strut of the Cessna 185.  His back is now facing the prop which creates a great hazard for the load and himself.  The pilot is seen looking at the skydivers climbing out rather than having eyes glued on the lead plane.  Whether the lead turned and ballooned or the trail lost direction and just over ran the lead plane it is hard to say without interviewing the pilots directly.

Things to consider and are NOT in any way saying this was the cause of this accident:

  • Flying close enough that you might be confused with the Blue Angels is NOT a good plan with skydivers.  CG shift, experience levels, variability of what the jumpers might do unexpected can all play into losing separation.  And it happens in a flash.  Hopefully not a flash of Avgas as seen here.
  • If you are flying lead you MUST maintain heading and airspeed.  If you plan a “cut” on climbout you must communicate that with your trail preferably in a preflight briefing and then again announced on the radio as a reminder.  This allows the formation to know exactly what you are doing and when.
  • If you are flying trail never lose sight of the lead plane or the plane you are to follow.  This is a cardinal rule.  I must never be broken or the formation must be abandoned.

One reply on “Superior, WI Formation Flight Crash Commentary”

Fly your assigned slot. Trail plane should never ever be above the lead plane. Bad for the airplanes and bad for the skydivers. The video is a great demonstration of what not to do. Everything was wrong and nothing was right.

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