Parachute Failure Clarification

Many folks are talking about the parachute failure as if the 'chute failed to open. Actually, from what was on Aero-News, the problem was not that the 'chute was pulled and then failed, it was that the handle wasn’t pulled hard or far enough to fire the 'chute in the first place. Apparently the ground impact finished the job.

Other than they tried, I don’t think anyone knows why it didn’t open in the air - “pulling error” or something else.

Glad to see you back with us, Joe.


Actually, from what was on Aero-News, the problem was not that the 'chute was pulled and then failed, it was that the handle wasn’t pulled hard or far enough to fire the 'chute in the first place. <<

According to tests that were done on the wreckage, I could have hung my wife, 5 year old Grandson and a rather large cat on the handle and it STILL might not have pulled. As it was, they figure I applied around 100 lbs force in the prescribed downward direction. By the grace of God, my co-pilot and I walked away with only minor cuts and bruises.

I sure am glad you are ok. Sorry about your plane. I am sure there will be a lot of requests on this forum for you to explain the events leading up to your decision to try to pull the handle. I hope you are free and able to share them with us and I hope we all understand if you are not.

Thank God you and you co-pilot are ok. Also, I;m glad to see you’re participating in the forum inspite of what happened.


glad your here to chat with us…:} Ed

Great to hear that you are OK Paul. I hope CD/BRS can get this business straightened out pronto.

Very glad you guys are OK! Thanks for checking in.


Great to hear from you! Very glad that you’re OK - that’s all that matters.


Paul - Thanks much for your details…I certainly spent much time speculating what/how the handle was activated. Your willingness to share that feedback with us is much appreciated; at least by me.
So glad you are ok physically and thanks again for clarifying that horrific event.
God Speed

Paul, I congratulate you on your crash landing! Any crash landing you walk away from is a GREAT LANDING! Glad to hear that you and your co-pilot are OK. Thanks for sharing this information with this forum rather than have us all wonder for months what happened.

Very very grateful that you are OK. I look forward to learning the details of the problem when you are free to discuss them.

Good job executing a landing that you and your copilot walked away from despite the CAPS problem!


Glad you folks are ok and thanks for participating in the forum. For those who haven’t seen it yet, below please find coverage of the incident in today’s AOPA ePilot (hope this doesn’t cause any copyright issues).

When a Cirrus SR20 went down in a field in Lexington, Kentucky,
last Saturday it marked the first time that the rocket-launched
parachute system had been activated by a customer. But there is
uncertainty as to why the parachute didn’t activate immediately.
The airplane’s owner, Paul Heflin, and another instrument-rated
pilot, Ben Ditty, were going to do practice instrument approaches
in actual conditions at Blue Grass Airport when they experienced
instrument failure after takeoff, Heflin told “ePilot.” Heflin said
that the pilots found themselves in an unusual attitude in the
clouds. Heflin said he reported to controllers that he was pulling
the activation handle at 2,000 feet agl. After there were no immediate
signs that it had launched, Heflin said he continued to pull it
numerous times in the manner in which he had been trained. But the
chute didn’t fire until after the airplane landed in field several
miles from the airport, he said. Neither pilot was injured.

Heflin said engineers later determined that he had exerted a force
of 100 pounds or more on the handle and that he had pulled at the
proper angle. Heflin said that the rocket canister was found about
50 feet from the aircraft. Heflin had complied with a service alert
bulletin issued by Cirrus that required immediate modification to
the activation cable that may have prevented the parachute system
from launching. But he did not comply with another service bulletin
designed, with a modification, to reduce the force necessary to
activate the chute. Cirrus sent out a message to owners Sunday
recommending that they comply with the second bulletin before the
next flight. The company also advised, “Pull down with both hands–
hard!” Cirrus spokesman Ian Bentley said that “it’s impossible to
speculate” at this point what exactly happened and that “nobody is
pointing fingers.” An NTSB investigation is currently under way.

Paul –
First, let me join the others in saying how pleased I am that the outcome (all things considered) was so favorable.
My question is this – what was the nature of the instrument failure? In some ways, the instrument failure seems as serious, and as frightening, as the 'chute’s failure. So I would very much appreciate it if you could let us know the just what the instrument failure was, that apparently led in to the rest of the story.

My name is Ben Ditty and I was the second occupant of the SR20 involved in the accident last Saturday. I am also an instrument rated private pilot, so I feel that I can accurately comment on the nature of the instrument failure which led to the forced landing.
The turn coordinator first failed by indicating a full left turn deflection without any control input (it remained that way during the remainder of the flight). After an altitude excursion of approximately one thousand feet and significant bank and pitch deviations, Paul thought that he had regained control of the airplane, which I confirmed to be true for a short period of time. At that point, the attitude indicator began indicating 50-60 degree left and right banks, without any control input by Paul. I was busy trying to reconcile the magnetic compass and the HSI, but the aircraft was never stable enough to get an accurate reading of the magnetic compass.
I hope this answered the questions you had about the instrument failure. If you have any further questions, you can just respond to this post and I’ll try to check back regularly.

Have a good day, Ben.


Thanks for the information about your hair raising experience. Was it particularly windy or turbulent in the clouds? Any sign of vacuum or electrical failure during the incident or did it just seem as though the T&B failed followed closely by the AI?

Good job gettting back on the ground in one piece!



Thank you for that report (excellent work). Is the SR20 in question a dual alternator or vacuum pump/alternator combination. Before the TC started to indicate improperly, were there any extreme unusual attitudes (to the best of your interpretation?). Same question after the TC failed, but before the AI indicated improperly?

Do you have opinions or observations that would suggest one or both failures was or was not a gyro tumble (e.g. the TC could have failed, and the AI tumbled due to an unusual attitude while partial panel?).

If you don’t want to get into details, I certainly understand. Congratulations on a safe landing!



I will have to admit that at the time, my efforts were focused more on determining what instruments were still reliable rather than why the unreliable instruments were that way. I will say that the turn coordinator “failed”, but I wouldn’t say that the attitude indicator “failed”, it became “unreliable”. The AI became unreliable after an altitude deviation and recovery which involved significant g forces on the airframe. It was not particularly bumpy, since you asked.

Have a good day, Ben.

So, things were bad enough to decide on using the chute(what was the last straw if I may ask), and then the chute failed. What did you do next?

Just when you really really want to rely on the AI it goes south on you. (Sounds more like north, then south, then - arrrgh.) Jeez, what a handful.

According to the SR20 POH:

“This [attitude] indicator is operable and can follow maneuvers through 360° in roll and 360° in pitch”

Obviously it didn’t work that way for you. Neither did CAPS. I think I’d be a mite ticked off.

There have been a fair amount of gripes about the AI being slow to erect (not that unusual for electric AI, but it’s vacuum on the SR20), occasionally inop, and now this. Has anyone had the AI tumble or wig out during unusual attitude work (besides Ben and Paul)? How does the AI look to you SR20 owners? Does it seem solid or does it seem flaky?

Did you guys have a chance to try the EMER position on the TC power switch?