Crash outside Dallas - parachute deployed?

An old member here - in more ways than one - who moved on from his Cirrus days to an LSA. Now I own a Flight Design CTLS complete with BRS. Which brings me to a question if I may.

The news reports I just read via internet state that the parachute on the crashed plane deployed BEFORE impact. IF that proves true would appreciate if someone posted any info that might be useful to the Flight Design community that flies with a smaller model of that parachute system.

If anyone’s interested our owners and pilots hang out at At least 2 former Cirri owners can be found there.



This is being discussed on the Member forums. Re deployment, it isn’t known how low the deployment (if any) was made yet. All cases where CAPS has been deployed within guidelines have been successful. Cases where CAPS has been pulled below 500 AGL have not always been successful (in terms of preventing fatalities). Way too early at this point to make any meaningful judgments about what happened.

Bill, further to Gordon’s comments, let me offer my services and informationto engage the Flight Design community. I would be happy to share some of the lessons that we have learned from the Cirrus parachute deployments.

For instance, as Gordon stated, when CAPS has been activated within design parameters (airspeed below 133 KIAS at Vpd and altitude above 920’ AGL), there have been ZERO fatalities.

However, when CAPS has been activated below 920’ AGL in a dive, a spin or an impact through trees, then people have died and others seriously injured.

CAPS has worked and people survived in these circumstances:

  • airspeed from 34 to 187 KIAS
  • altitude from 50’ to 13,000’ AGL
  • attitude inverted, spiral dive, unusual attitude
  • landings have been on shrubs, trees, forests, mountain slopes, inhospitable terrain, river, lake, pond, ocean, residential neighborhood, communication tower, telephone tower
    Hope this accident investigation can help us understand the circumstances. My cursory glance at the news photographs reveals a very damaged aircraft in which the back seat passenger died. Highly unlikely that the parachute was activated with sufficient altitude, but we don’t know yet.

It takes less than 8 seconds to reduce the forward velocity from flying speed to zero knots. Those photographs show much greater destructive energy than one would expect from a fully deployed parachute.


p.s. Thanks for coming back and asking.

I guess it depends on how you define successful. I can think of two cases where the parachute did not function correctly, though no fatalities resulted. The first was the Lexington, KY accident:

Where it was determined that higher than expected, and inconsistent, amount of force was required to deploy the chute. The second was in Australia:

where the chute was activated but did not deploy successfully.

Yes, I know that ADs were issued after both these incidents to fix the problems, but at the time of these accidents, there were no outstanding ADs on the CAPS. I’m still a huge CAPS fan - I wouldn’t even consider owning a piston single without a chute now - but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the chute works 100% of the time, even when deployed within the approved envelope.

To keep this in context of time, these occurred something like 7 years ago. Ever since then, with the mods specified by the AD, all CAPS deployments (dozens) within the stated parameters have been successful.


I’m not trying to be argumentative - really - but the 2nd accident I cited occurred 4 years ago (2007), not 7. And anyway, I was just taking issue with your statement that “ALL” CAPS activations within the deployment envelope were successful. Of course I agree that CAPS is a great device and wholeheartedly believe it needs to be used more often, not less. But having 2 deployment snafus even given the dozens of successful deployments still means that we shouldn’t view CAPS as a guarantee.

Okay, Steve, some facts to clarify the examples you cite.

Lexington, KY. Non-fatal accident. The pull force of the CAPS activation cable was a known problem at the time of the accident. Cirrus issued two service bulletins, one for the rocket igniter and the other for the cable routing. After those bulletins were issued, the accident plane was serviced. The first but not the second bulletin was completed. An airworthiness directive had been issued to enforce compliance with all of the service bulletins, but became effective 3 days after the accident. Any airworthy Cirrus flying today has those modifications. And if the accident airplane had complied with the second service bulletin, …

Sydney, Australia: Non-fatal accident. That activation was below 400’ AGL, hence it was outside of the design guidelines. Yes, the rocket flew an anomalous trajectory. And yes, Cirrus engineering discovered a condition in which the rocket could fail to pickup the collar attached to the cable that extracted the parachute bag. An airworthiness directive was issued for that problem. Any airworthy Cirrus flying today has those modifications.

In my view, the parachute system is reliable, effective, and saves lives. All known problems have been fixed. Yet, it is not a guarantee. Lives have been lost when the parachute has been activated at high speeds or low altitudes. Lesson learned: don’t die with a perfectly good parachute unused behind you. Pull early, pull often!

Quibbling about success is an unfortunate distraction from lives being lost when the parachute system is not used in situations where we know that other pilots survived.

My statements remain emphatic: When the CAPS parachute has been activated within design parameters, zero lives have been lost. When CAPS was not activated in fatal accidents involving a similar decision point to a CAPS save, 94 lives have been lost.



Hmmm… You say quibbling, I say trying to correct a misleading statement. IMHO, it’s disingenuous to claim that all CAPS pulls within the envelope have been successful, when we know of one pull where the chute didn’t work (the Australia one), and another where the pull force was sufficiently high to prevent deployment (the KY one), prior to an AD being issued to fix the problems.

I believe your statement that the Australian pull was lower than the minimum altitude - BUT that doesn’t change the fact that the chute fired incorrectly (it didn’t misfire because it was too low, it just plain misfired). And, yes, thankfully no fatalities ensued in either case. But that’s a credit to the pilots who crash landed the planes and also a fair bit of luck. In my opinion, these are not successes, but failures.

Look, I agree with your main premise that the chute should be used much more often than it is, and that it could have prevented many more lives had it been used. No question about it, it works the vast majority of the time and I’m glad to have it. Having just 2 failures in dozens of deployments is great, considering the nature of the system. But going beyond the facts and claiming “successes” when the system has failed, just because the occupants were lucky enough to survive, moves from advocacy to evangelism, IMHO, and makes the message less effective to those who are still making up their minds about how and when to use the chute.

Rick -

Thanks for your usual thorough and thoughtful reply.

I can’t imagine flying a CIRRUS without benefit of the wisdom and commeraderie of this group.

All best,


And here we are in the public, on the Guest forum, discussing fine points of using a safety feature that has been castigated by competitive sales pressure, using similar arguments to those you have presented.

Those arguments may have been a factor for at least one Cirrus pilot who had previously owned one of those competitive planes, was known to not believe in the system, and died in a Cirrus accident where in a couple of similar situations pilots have pulled the red handle and lived. Regrettably, I still encounter Cirrus pilots at Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Programs who hold onto your beliefs and accept your arguments that the CAPS system doesn’t work reliably and will not be successful.

The reality is that some pilots choose to believe that the CAPS system will not save them when they need it. And I fear that your corrections overstate the risk and undermine the belief necessary for Cirrus pilots to act.

Maybe so.

But retrospectively claiming that prior failures will predict future failures is logically wrong. And may be dead wrong! Those engineering issues have been analyzed and corrected for all airworthy Cirrus aircraft. They will not happen again.

There is no known failure mode for the CAPS system. None. The past failure modes have been corrected.

There may be unknown failure modes. Probably will be one found some day. There is no known probability of one happening. And past failures that cannot happen again do not contribute to the future probability of success or failure.

For sure, there is no guarantee. But if you don’t pull, then the consequences can and have been fatal.

So, recite the facts of past problems. That’s the history. Acknowledge it and move on. Just do not confuse folks with the future prospects of those problems recurring.

Sorry to become so emphatic. But the debate about success of the Cirrus parachute system is tragic when Cirrus pilots die in situations where they could have lived – if they pulled the red handle like other Cirrus pilots have done in similar situations.


Well, we all agree the chute is a great idea, we all bought the plane that has one, and not the planes that didn’t, and we spend a fair amount of time thinking about when we should use it, and regretting those lives lost when it wasn’t used, or was used too late.

It’s fair for the public visiting this open portion of COPA to realize there are vigorous debates on the members’ side, covering CAPS among many other useful aviation matters, making it the best pilots forum of the bunch, the best $65 aviation money can buy.

Your statement implies that nothing has changed since those two incidents and that the same “odds” exist now as before, but this is clearly not the case. Clearly the odds of a successful deployment since the fixes were deployed have been very good (in fact, perfect). While I certainly agree that CAPS is not a guarantee, I don’t want anyone to hesitate using it when it should be used because of a lingering doubt based on old news and addressed issues.

I’m a new guest member and don’t own, nor have yet flow, a Cirrus. However, I am considering the purchase of one now that I have sold my Baron.

I’d just like to say that I appreciate the open dialog and feel I am intelligent enough to appreciate the points raised by each post.

Keep posting!

Mike, if you are considering a purchase, I’d strongly recommend that you join COPA so you can access the “fire hose” of information available on on the Members Forums. There is practically nothing here in the Public forum. The information and exchanges are so valuable and lively that we have many members who remain members even after they have sold their Cirri and bought TBM’s or Eclipse jets. It’s about the best $65 you can spend in aviation.

Hey! Don’t forget us Light Sport guys!

… and light sport guys! [:$]

After today’s posts showed up, and after teaching the new CAPS Decision Making course here in Australia, I realized that my quoted claim is a bit too sweeping and general.

There are two known failure modes for the CAPS system:

  1. Activation when the airspeed is too high causing the parachute to rip off the airframe.
  2. Activation when altitude is too low causing the parachute to partially inflate before ground impact.
    Those two failure modes were the reason for the mantra “Pull Early, Pull Often!”

However, unlike the thrust of this debate, these failure modes are outside of the design parameters for the CAPS parachute system of 133 KIAS airspeed and 1000’ AGL

Yet, people have died in Cirrus aircraft due to these two failure modes. Norden, CA, was an activation at about 300 KIAS and the parachute ripped off. Yet, at Horton, UK, an activation at 187 KIAS worked and 2 people survived uninjured. And a deployment below 200’ AGL resulted in fatalities at Deltona, FL, and deployed at 528’ in a 100 knot spin resulted in a fatality and serious injuries at Indianapolis, IN.

Folks considering the viability of the parachute might be well served to consider all of the activations, good, bad and fatal.