Albertans float to safety after plane deploys parachute: Drop from 9,500 feet, walk away unscratched

Renata D’Aliesio
The Edmonton Journal
804 words
10 April 2004
Edmonton Journal
A1 / Front
Copyright © 2004 Edmonton Journal


Albert Kolk was with his grandson and two friends, flying over the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia, when his small plane began to shake and spiral out of control.

At 9,500 feet, with jagged peaks, trees and Lower Arrow Lake below, Kolk did what he was trained to do: he pulled a handle opening the plane’s parachute.

“We came down safely and sound and just stepped out of the plane,” the semi-retired Picture Butte rancher said Friday on his cellphone as he drove home.

The group was heading to Lethbridge from Seattle, but wanted to see the majestic 8,000-foot mountains before returning home Thursday.

“We were on auto pilot and things seemed to go fine,” he said. “But for some reason one wing dropped and it started to get out of control.”

Kolk, who learned to fly about nine years ago, said he couldn’t stop the four-seater Cirrus SR-20 from spiralling.

The crash “did substantial damage to my plane, but nobody got hurt. Not even a sore muscle or a bruise. It’s amazing.”

Search and rescue workers were amazed, too.

Capt. Alex Schenk, an air rescue co-ordinator in Esquimalt, B.C., said this is the first crash he has encountered involving a plane with a parachute.

It appears the incident was the first of its kind in Canada involving a Cirrus aircraft.

Two years ago in Texas, a 53-year-old pilot flying a similar model of aircraft used a parachute to land for the first time in the United States. The pilot walked away without injuries after his plane lost a wing flap and went down near a golf course in Texas.

“The fact that they’re still standing tells you something of its effectiveness,” Schenk said of Thursday’s crash.

Cirrus Design Corp., based in Minnesota, began putting parachutes in its planes about five years ago. The safety feature has proved to be extremely attractive, helping make the company one of the world’s largest makers of four-seater planes.

The parachute, which works at altitudes as low as 300 feet, was the main reason Kolk bought his Cirrus a year and a half ago.

The system, which weighs just 27 kilograms, works like this: When the chute handle is pulled, a solid-fuel rocket blows out the top hatch, deploying the parachute and unzipping harness straps from the plane’s sides. Within seconds, a canopy hovers over the plane, taking it to the ground with the impact of about a 12-foot drop.

Parachutes can be bought separately and added to recreational aircrafts such as seaplanes, gliders and ultra-lights.

Kolk left Lethbridge for Seattle on Wednesday. While in the west-coast city, Kolk and his 14-year-old grandson, Jordan, visited a museum and a science centre.

They also took a ride up the Space Needle, one of Seattle’s most popular attractions.

The pair and Kolk’s two friends from Fort Macleod left Seattle about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, stopping in Kelowna for fuel.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the group ran into trouble.

The plane landed on a mountain range at about 4,200 feet in Granby Provincial Park near Kelowna.

“Lady luck was with the four uninjured males as the aircraft set down in an open area,” Schenk said, reading from a press release. “It could have been much worse.”

Kolk radioed for help. An Air Canada Jazz plane picked up his transmission and contacted search and rescue workers.

The group prayed while they waited.

“We just huddled together and stayed nice and warm,” Kolk said of their two hours on the mountain.

“The search and rescue workers said quite often when they do rescue work, they pick up body bags. They said this is a really happy ending for them as well as for us.”

Kolk doesn’t know what went wrong with his plane. Transport Canada will investigate the crash.

Nakusp RCMP Const. Pete Delisle said Kolk reported that the plane’s fuel

wasn’t burning equally in its tanks, causing the aircraft to become unbalanced and spiral out of control.

Schenk said the plane encountered severe turbulence.

Kolk’s wife waited anxiously Friday for her husband’s return.

She was grateful the parachute saved the group.

So was Kolk.

“That parachute just works beautifully,” he said.

"We’re in excellent shape and healthy and very happy and thankful that we could walk away from it.

“Every morning we ask the Lord for protection and we believe he did protect us.”


Colour Photo: Supplied / This photo shows a Cirrus aircraft with its parachute deployed.

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