Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Over Water, Under Canopy!

Saved by the BRS parachute

Elaine McGlaughlin after a successful parachute deployment in a Cirrus SR22 over the Bahamas.
Here's the situation: You're over the broad expanse of turquoise ocean southeast of the Florida coast in your single-engine Cirrus, still many miles from Haiti—or any land at all. The oil pressure just dropped another 10 on the gauge. It's down to 30 now. Cylinder-head temp gauges are creeping noticeably toward the red lines. Not good. No, this isn't looking good at all.

Worse by far, your daughter Elaine sits next to you, the daughter you've loved all her young life. The same Elaine you've held, sung to, rocked to sleep, taken a million pictures of, fed and protected and prepared for adult life.

Your mind is curiously both sluggish and racing at the same time. Right now, it's the statistics about ditching in the open ocean that have you by the throat. The first stat is 90%. That's the amount of people who survive the initial water landing. The second stat is also 90%—for how many survivors live after a successful ditch. Those two numbers loom huge in your life right now, because together they calculate out to 81%: 81% of people who ditch survive the experience. Looked at another way, 19 out of 100 die.

You glance at your lovely Elaine. If you choose to ditch in the ocean 9,000 feet below, the odds say there's nearly one chance in five your beloved child and you aren't going to make it through. Those aren't acceptable odds.

When It Gets Real
For Dr. Richard McGlaughlin, en route from Florida to his monthly volunteer medical-relief work in the earthquake-stricken island nation of Haiti, this is no Cirrus-factory simulator emergency drill, no scary fictional product pitch. The way the engine is acting up, he knows he'll likely have to make a life-saving decision in minutes...if not seconds.

He thinks about the fixed gear of the Cirrus, perhaps his biggest sweat in a water-landing scenario. Even if all goes perfectly and they hit the water at near-stall speed—around 60 knots—the water will grab those vertical legs and could slam the nose down into the water and flip the plane over onto its back. He has read about other ditches. He knows that concrete-like impact could smash through the windshield to flood the cockpit instantaneously with a huge volume of water.

His blood runs cold at the thought of them both being knocked unconscious and drowning. He looks at her again. Her eyes seem a bit wider than normal, but her demeanor is calm. She has heard dad's mayday call and the back-and-forth with Tamiami. She won't add to his stress level by freaking out. Good girl, he thinks.


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