Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Death From Above...

Wow, just when I thought "Torn Apart By A Killer Whale In The Middle Of An Amusement Park" was going to be a strong front runner for Bizarrest Death of '10, along comes one that knocks it into a cocked hat.

Apparently a guy was flying his Lancair, a small low-wing single-engine plane, back north from Orlando when he started having engine problems. And by "engine problems", I mean the kind that sprayed oil all over his windscreen and caused the propeller to land somewhat earlier than the rest of the aircraft.

Now at the helm of a somewhat ungainly 3,500lb glider, he called an emergency and began looking for somewhere to set down. Upon realizing that his glide angle wasn't going to get him to Hilton Head airport, he settled for the next best thing: A strip of Hilton Head Beach.

Meanwhile, one Mr. Jones, taking his vacation in Hilton Head, SC, was jogging down the beach with earphones in. I'm not sure what he was listening to, maybe Johnny Winters doing "Bad Luck Blues" or "Bad Luck" by Social Distortion... Anyway, what he was listening to isn't important. See, I don't think the earphones were a big factor, because a plane with a missing prop and a seized engine doesn't make a lot of noise as it comes gliding out of the sky and lands on your head from behind.

I'd say he's got the award for most unusual checkout of the year pretty much sewed up unless someone manages to get tied up and bludgeoned to death with hard salamis by circus midgets between now and December 31st.

(via email.)


Joel said...

Wow. Suddenly it doesn't seem as paranoid that this is why i won't own an iPod.

staghounds said...

"Do you know how many times God missed before he got down to a guy on a jet ski?"

Tam said...


I get as much kick out of being a Luddite as anybody, but once I wrapped my head around the fact that the iPod wasn't a "modern Walkman" but rather a "portable hard drive with a built-in color monitor" I got over my iPodphobia.

But I won't use the headphones anyplace I can't be in Condition White.

MrWolf. said...

I just use one ear-phone. Yes, I do get some funny looks. Bet a get a few less tomorrow.

Best wishes.

Living in Babylon said...

I'm pretty sure a plane falling out of the sky on me would be beyond the scope of my preps, assuming I managed to make my Perception+Alertness check I'm still not sure I would know what to do.

Boat Guy said...

Sometimes natural selection takes something more than "nature". Guy on the beach must not have been an aviator; didn't "Check six"

Mark Alger said...

Luck IS a survival factor.


Anonymous said...

My brother in law is in one of the houses that you can see from the various news photos. he sent us a pic the day it happened and said that no one had been hurt. but there was a plane sitting in the water. i wonder if they told vacationers that so no one freaked.


fast richard said...

It would be pretty unusual to "check six" often enough to notice a silent attack from above at nearly 100 mph. Even if he had had a propeller turning, there wouldn't have been enough sound to hear above headphones. As it was with the prop gone a mild breeze would have drowned out the sound of such a clean aircraft.

There will be lawsuits, but it would be hard to fault the pilot who dealt with a catastrophic mechanical failure without killing more people. I wouldn't want to be the last person who installed that propeller though. Properly installed propellers are not supposed to come off in flight.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to the supposed informed opinion of Mary Schiavo, former IG for the NTSB, engineless planes are not that silent, even from the outside, so I suspect the oblivious Mr. Jones was both unobservant/unlucky, and had his ears full of i-tunes. His case was not helped by the fact that the Lancair was stepping right along, even without the assistance of it's engine. Mr. Smith, our erstwhile Lancair IV-P pilot is not just lucky, but a pretty darn good pilot too. The little Lancair IV-Ps (the high performance pressurized cabin version) have a wing loading commensurate with their 330 mph cruise and 75 mph landing speeds, and the accompanying unpowered glide ratio of a polished brick. Even with the wing tiplets. An admirable job of piloting by Mr. Smith just getting it to a nice flat spot. Not much he could have done about our blissfully unaware jogger without rolling the IV-P and himself up in a little ball.


Tam said...

Oh, I know it's not silent, but assuming a sea breeze and some surf noise, and given the probable closure rate, I doubt it was screaming "Hey! Look here!" either.

Plus, of course, there was the earphone thing...

Neutrino Cannon said...

Ding dong the witch is dead!


Unknown said...

I'm so glad I wasn't drinking my coffee when I read this.

Joel said...

Hey, I'm not a Luddite, Tam. I gave up hand-chiseling my LPs from wax blanks months ago.

I even listen to an occasional MP3 - actually I've somehow accumulated hundreds of them. But walking around with earbuds on, oblivious to the world, just never struck me as smart. And I hadn't even considered the apparently dire threat of falling airplanes.

WV=urspotch. The primal stage of Spotchism.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Next thing you know, NHTSA will be requiring air horns on all private aircraft.

Mossyrock said...

Wanna bet there is a clause in his life insurance policy against this?

skally: Skanky Sally?

Revolver Rob said...

Significant Other says: "I've always maintained that jogging kills."

I say chances are that given the angle and focus on the instruments Mr. Smith probably didn't see said jogger. Quite a shame really and Mr. Smith and his mechanic will be getting sued into oblivion, I hope he is properly insured.


WV: funbu, it was funbuwhile it lasted? Wow, that was bad.

Joanna said...

Makes me think of the people who ride their bikes on busy roads, earbuds firmly in place. I've been on rides where some music would have been nice, but you know what? Being alive is nicer.

Besides, who says we need to have music every waking moment? It drowns out the thinky muscle.

Tam said...

I only really listen to music in the car. Sometimes when I'm just surfing the intertubes. Never when I'm out walking or riding.

Hunsdon said...

Tam said:

I only really listen to music in the car. Sometimes when I'm just surfing the intertubes. Never when I'm out walking or riding.

Lew said: And that dates both Tam and me right there. People listen to music everywhere these days----it kind of freaks me out.

Anonymous said...

I'm in my early 20s, and I don't listen to music in public. It's not an age thing, it's an "I know who Jeff Cooper is" thing.

Joanna said...

I admit that I had to look up who Jeff Cooper was, but Anon at 12:15 is absolutely right.

Unfortunately, there's a strong correllation between "18 to 30" and "perfectly comfortable with constant condition white". Which, frankly, explains a lot more than just the prevalance of the iPod. Nanny State, anyone?

Chas S. Clifton said...

I am old enough to remember the Walkman. I also remember once hiking in the mountains when I saw a guy ahead with his Walkman headphones on, blocking the trail.

He was just standing there, listening to the music. So I walked quietly up and tapped him on the shoulder. The reaction was worth it.

But I doubt most of us check up and behind us when jogging on the beach. Humans, after all, evolved after the era of giant flying reptiles.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I'd say his being in Condition White was not a factor here. As Tam said, even if it wasn't truly silent, given any normal level of surf noise and the probable approach speed and angle, he wouldn't have seen anything even if he'd been looking for a threat. Who looks up for something like that on the beach?

Hopefully, the pilot kept up on all his maintenance, and kept the records in order. That will go a long way towards protecting him in a lawsuit.

staghounds said...

Protecting him in a lawsuit?


His own airplane, for the state of which he is responsible.

Onto someone who had every right to think he was far far away from airplanes.

Loud or quiet, earphones or not,
he is 100% civilly liable for this one, and he ought to be.

It doesn't matter that he is a "good pilot", or that he might have been killed had he done differently.

He chose to land on the jogger.

He killed an innocent stranger to save himself.

F@ck him right in the eye.

You break it, you bought it.

DaveFla said...

My profile photo hasn't the resolution to show it, but one of my earphones is usually out of skull & dangling. Also, I've mostly listened to audiobooks for the last few years... but I didn't know until today that this was a strategy for surviving an air incident.

staghounds said...

I mean, really!

"An admirable job of piloting by Mr. Smith just getting it to a nice flat spot. Not much he could have done about our blissfully unaware jogger without rolling the IV-P and himself up in a little ball."

What, the dead man provided a cushion?

Plenty of nice flat ocean with NO PEOPLE ON IT.

Joanna said...

Uh, staghounds? The windscreen was covered in oil. You're assuming he saw the jogger and landed anyway; from everything I've heard so far, that was pretty much impossible.

staghounds said...

I wrote unclearly, I should have said

"Chose to risk killing an innocent stranger to save himself, and did."

I'm assuming he didn't know the man was there, or that he was unable to avoid him upon seeing him. He must feel awful.

But the piloty sounding people above suggest that there was some element of control to the descent, and praise his skills. They, and I, assume he picked maybe occupied beach over far less likely to be occupied sea.

I don't have enough knowledge to have an opinion, but that makes sense.

I do know some law though.

The above posters seem to think that he is not fully civilly liable for the man's death, or that the dead man somehow had a responsibility to avoid it, or that good maintenance records will prevent civil liability.

Isn't this is a res ipsa case? The instrumentality of the harm was entirely within the pilot's control, and the risk was entirely unforeseeable from the victim's viewpoint.

The pilot may be able to go after his propeller installer or someone else, but he's fully liable to the victim for compensatory damages.

Dropping airplanes on people is pretty much strict liability, isn't it?

(My civil law is not what it might be, I'm open to correction.)

Jeff said...

Landing on the beach is a much better/safer option than ditching. It sounds to me like he did a great job.

I think that if the guy didn't have his music blasting he would have heard something I'd imagine that it wouldn't be heard to pickup the high pitched whistling sound over the surf.

To me it sounds like a terrible tragedy for both parties.


staghounds said...

In this sort of event, aren't pilots taught to aim for the place least likely to contain innocent bystanders?

Justthisguy said...

Stag is right. He should have tried for a golf course.

staghounds said...

Or legislative body.

GuardDuck said...

Not going to comment on the liability of such an action.

But ditching in the ocean isn't a high percentage activity. As a choice I'd put it only above landing on top of a flock of nuns.

Anonymous said...

Shit happens, you just never know when, where, or to whom.

But all in all, checking out while having fun on vacation, with no prior mental anguish or long-term suffering, and leaving the family with double-indemnity now and a fat settlement later, wouldn't be at the top of my list of possible ignominious exits.


staghounds said...

Yes, there's that.

Which would you rather be, a grieving widow or a grieving widow with a couple of million dollars?

And, like my classmate's sister who was eaten by crocodiles in Australia, he will be the only picture album that EVERYONE in the family knows who he is three hundred years from now.

Anonymous said...

I admit, it'd make a pretty good tombstone: "Seems death only winged him."

Wait, too soon?


jimbob86 said...

I often tell my kids:

Ya know, you could be mindin' yer own business, and an airplane could fall out of the sky and squash you .... not likely, but it could happen. If, on the other hand, you are running up and down the runways at O'Hare blindfolded with earplugs in and muffs on.... it'd kinda be your fault.... Those (insert item/persons associated with risky behavior) look kinda like earmuffs and I hear jet noise....

I pointed out this story and got "Wow. It COULD happen!"

Will said...

For some reason, the story about the airplane, a propeller, and an impact with a person on the ground brought to mind the story "WWII's Luckiest Soldier" by W E Thompson. 1st Lt Philip Savides was strafing a German rail yard in a P-47 when he elected to exit the area by staying right at ground level, instead of climbing, to elude fire by flak guns. A German soldier running toward him stopped upright, frozen in fear, judging by his expression. Not wanting to pop up into view of the many flak guns, Savides stayed low, so low he was leaving an airborne trail of dirt and dust thrown up by his 4 bladed prop. Unable to turn without striking the ground with a wingtip, he watched the helmeted head disappear close under the engine cowl. There was no indication that the 13ft diameter prop had hit the soldier. Puzzled by that lack, he held it low for a mile, and then pulled the stick back and went to full throttle to catch up to the rest of the group.
Years later, he calculated that at 250mph, 2250rpm, that the prop tips would hit the six o'clock position 2.44ft ahead of each other.
THAT is what you could call a close shave!

Joseph said...

There's another candidate for Bizarrest Death of '10.

staghounds said...

Holy cr@p.

On the "lucky soldier" thing, it's a good story, but I wonder if hitting Fritz would have produced any pilot-detectable effects. That's a lot of horsepower and velocity, with plenty of insulation.

But I like the story, so I'll believe it. And that the German went on to raise a happy family.

Sendarius said...

Staghounds: So your classmate's sister was Ginger Meadows?

Even if I am thinking of another incident, THAT one gave rise to the CLASSIC crocodile joke.

What do crocodiles eat?
Anything with a touch of ginger.

BTW Aussie crocs are now in plague proportions, fearless of humans, and invading people habitats as a result of a 30+ year long total ban on hunting them.

Anonymous said...

staghounds said...

"In this sort of event, aren't pilots taught to aim for the place least likely to contain innocent bystanders?"

NO, Staghounds, they most definitely are NOT taught to "...aim for the place least likely to contain innocent bystanders".

In every flight school class taught by every single certified instructor and by every experienced pilot, they are taught that when the engine stops, you stick the nose down, and land as straight ahead as is humanly possible. Even if it's straight into the trees. Trying to turn around will almost always kill you, and trying to miss stuff ON the ground WILL kill you. You don't have the airspeed or the time to screw around.

I have friends that did land straight into trees after engine failure on takeoff, and while they were injured, they lived to fly another day.

For those who might remember, A Mr. Jim Wright had a propeller governor run away while flying his Hughes H-1 Racer back from Oshkosh. He stuck the nose down, had a passable spot to land (in Yellowstone National Park), and at the last moment, he saw some tourists, tried to swerve to avoid them, and wound up a flaming fireball. His wife had to take over the family machine shop business.

Take a class.


Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

Also, re: the pilot seeing the jogger:

If you've never been in a small plane like that, you can't actually see the ground directly in front of you - the instrument panel sticks up higher than you would think, and blocks your view, especially as you get closer to your landing and have to raise the nose.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Mr. Schiavo may be a former NTSB investigator for a reason.

Open the window and yell?

The Lancair IV-P (P for PRESSURIZED) has fixed windows. Unless you propose cracking the door on a streamlined aircraft in an unpowered glide that close to the ground is *wise*...

Dr. StrangeGun said...

" but I wonder if hitting Fritz would have produced any pilot-detectable effects."

Smack a meat watermelon wrapped in a steel pot with a prop tip moving ~400mph and I don't think it'll "buff right out" of either object.

Our man Hans though was probably last seen fishing his appendix out of his issue skivvies... probably had his buds donating rations for a week to make up for 'lost content'. Best fast diet plan I've heard of... want to lose weight fast? Stand here, and for God's sake don't plug your ears if you like your elbows...

Justthisguy said...

More on my golf course comment:

Back in the eighties, I think it was, I helped a friend of my Dad work on the brakes on his Grumman Widgeon (the very same Widgeon from which pictures of the sinking Andrea Doria were snapped). As a reward, he took me up in it, and let me fly it for a little while.

He was already pretty old and gray, and I did think about the heart-attack possibilities. Now, the Widgeon had one of those throw-over control wheels, so only one guy could fly at a time. There were no rudder pedals on my side, just a stub shaft sticking up from the floor to accept a rudder bar, which was stowed out of reach.

Had the guy stroked out on me, I would have been crazy to attempt a landing on a paved runway, as that might have killed me too, and rolled up the airplane into a ball. This airplane had the famous Grumman Groundloop Apparatus, as seen in the F4F. (you should have seen him dance a jig on the rudder pedals while landing)

So. I determined that if had to fly the thing down myself, I had two choices:

1. If sure he was irreparably dead, hell, it's a flying boat, bring it down slowly on the Gulf, taking several miles to do so if necessary.

2. If it looked like he might live, well, the Beach Club golf course was a coupla blocks from the hospital, and a flying boat could prolly survive that, with the wheels up.

AND! I might have gotten to kill some golfers! (they are the worst thing about Florida, after Real Estate MFs.)

I mentioned my golfer-hatred to Andrea Harris, and she replied that having to live in Florida makes one a misanthrope. She has escaped, to Virginia, I believe.

Will said...


From everything I've read about combat aircraft of WWII, any contact with the prop is sufficient to let the pilot know about it. Bullet strikes, tree branches, wires, birds, water splashes, debris from shot up aircraft, etc.

Frankly, I probably would have pulled up, myself. Mangling a blade from hitting a human might have caused enough performance loss to keep it from making it back to base. Loosing a blade would have probably caused an immediate crash from the immense vibration of an unbalanced prop. Even if he didn't crash instantly, he would have not glided very far, since he was already at ground level.
I've seen the result of a lost prop blade on a P-51 at heavy throttle. It ripped the engine off the mounts. The only thing keeping it connected to the plane was a safety cable just for that purpose. He was on fire as he dropped out of sight, but he made it to the emergency strip.
If the engine falls off a single engine plane, it stops flying and becomes a kite without a string, due to center of gravity shift.

Firehand said...

When son was in Civil Air Patrol, I got to sit in on some of the 'How aircraft work' lessons, and in the single-engine planes they used the advice I remember was "If the engine dies, you get it to the first piece of level ground, or the closest thing to it, as soon as possible. Or else."

I definitely remember the twin-engine advice: "If you lose one engine, you always have enough power to get to the scene of the crash, but not enough to keep flying."

Will said...

BTW, the highest scoring (28 air kills) American pilot in Europe, Col. Francis "Gabby" Gabreski, miscalculated while strafing a German plane. His P-47's prop touched the grass field, initiating a 5 day E&E until capture in late July '44.

Anonymous said...

I was hit by a hang glider in the '70s at Michigan's Warren Dunes state park. The idiot pilot flared out and smacked me across the back of the legs as I was lying in the sand with the center spar. All I heard coming was a flapping of the fabric then a shadow and I was trying to dig for China.