Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Over Water, Under Canopy!

Saved by the BRS parachute

Over the next few minutes, they snug down their seat harnesses and prepare everything possible for the water, including stationing the life raft within easy reach and checking their life vests.

Hanging By The Tail
McGlaughlin continues, "I'd been watching the coast get closer, 'I think I can make land,' I thought. Then a second later: 'Aw the hell with it, I don't care if I can make land or not,' and I pulled the chute handle at 2,300 feet."

Then come sharp moments of pure visceral drama—and not a little terror. First, the whoosh of the parachute-pulling rocket, then a dramatic deceleration from 90 knots to zero "in about two seconds...and that is quite a shock.

"After the 'chute deploys out the rear of the airplane, you hang from one parachute riser for a few moments." Pilot and daughter, hanging now by chest straps, look through the windshield—the nose is pointing straight down—"and all we saw was water. We were hanging by the tail."
McGlaughlin had gone through the cirrus simulator in atlanta some time before. He describes it as being "very expensive and inconvenient—and a really good idea." In the SIM, he had practiced several parachute moments...
Suddenly, an ungodly sound that McGlaughlin demonstrates to the audience, sounding like a kid imitating a jet flying close overhead. "Oh no," he says, "I thought, 'The parachute's ripped! I'm going to have to ditch after all!'" In fact, that sound is the Big Rip of the other risers tearing loose from the composite skin of the fuselage. "When you don't have an
engine making a lot of that disturbing racket that normally makes everything so hard to hear, the risers ripping free really, really makes a lot of noise!

"Then the airplane rights itself, and you're descending pretty much flat at about 17 knots vertical speed," McGlaughlin says. That may not sound like much—until you realize it's equivalent to jumping off a roof.

The airplane rotates slightly as it descends under the full red-and-white canopy. In the last seconds, the ocean seems to rush up. "You hit the water pretty hard. You feel it in your coccyx. You feel it all the way up your spine. And that's it."

Except it isn't, quite. A gush of sea water, "maybe a gallon or so on each side," rushes in through the vents, which he had not closed, and onto their laps. A moment of panic: Are they shipping water and sinking? Time to move!

McGlaughlin calls out, "Elaine? You alright?"


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