January 16, 1999
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, light winds, clear skies and the itch to fly. I attended church, ate a nice breakfast and set out to the airport.
My family was to meet me at the airport we were all going to fly to Death Valley for lunch. I had received the knowns for 1999, and was anxious to fly. I decided to take my aerobatic aircraft up and get in a practice session while waiting for my family.
As I pushed my aircraft out of the hanger I went through my usual egress procedure as I do before every flight. I completed my preflight, climbed in and waved to my family as they had just arrived.
I had talked to Alan Garringer the night before and was very anxious to get to the practice area to try some of the exercises he had described.
As I climbed out, I couldn't understand why more people weren't flying on such a beautiful day. As I approached the practice area I did my clearing turns, checked my instruments, and proceeded to fly.
As I did my snap roll exercises, I noticed everything was going great. I thought that I would do one more outside snap - upright - horizontal, I push hard left rudder, but I do not punch the stick forward. The pedal gives way, my heart drops, oh my God I thought. Not me. The airplane stays perfectly neutral. I start talking out loud, checking the cable with my left hand. I pull hoping to hand control it. I'm not so lucky. I knew it was for real, how could this be this only happens to people you read about in Sport Aerobatics.
Somehow the aircraft stayed straight and level for over 30 seconds, allowing me to evaluate and think of all options. I told myself, do not touch the controls. I then called North Las Vegas tower. The first two calls were unheard. Finally, the third was heard. I spoke quickly trying to give my location and situation.
As soon as I did the airplane broke hard right and pitched straight down. No more time, survival mode - I pulled back the canopy, it felt like a feather. Next, the straps released in a split second. I unplugged my helmet and went left. I do not remember anything until I found myself in a stable arch, screaming toward earth.
I could see the aircraft out of the corner of my eye. I pulled the ripcord praying for a good chute. In an instant I remembered my first solo skydive when my main chute failed, then I felt the opening shock, what a relief. Especially with no reserve available. Thanks to Allen Silver, Para-Phernalia, Inc. and Free Flight Enterprises.
Once again I was talking out loud. "It's not over yet, stay focused". I needed to recall proper landing technique, feet together, knees bent, relax. I repeated hit and roll. Then I saw the dust from the wreckage. It was directly in my line of sight. It showed me the wind direction so I steered facing into it. What a blessing, now to avoid the cactus, especially the Yucca. For those not familiar with the cactus out here, imagine 12" to 18" spikes growing out in every direction. This was a major concern. Here I just survived a bailout and now I may get mounted on one these monsters. But, once again, you may call it luck, I call it God's grace.
There was a clearing, I talked my way through my landing out loud. I had no forward speed due to the gentle winds. I hit and rolled, got up quickly, assessed myself, no injuries! Wow, what a rush. Still in the survival mode with maximum adrenaline flowing, I still needed to be found. I did not know if the tower heard me or knew where I was.
I headed to the wreckage, spread my chute out and before I knew it a Cessna was circling overhead. Shortly after a police helicopter airlifted me out to the waiting paramedics and emergency crew. I luckily needed no assistance but what an ordeal.
There are numerous events that occurred that saved my life. I can't explain them but I will describe them.
On December 12th I invited Allen Silver to give a safety seminar to our local IAC chapter. At that time he reviewed every scenario possible. Al also inspected and repacked my chute. Prior to that I had gone through a skydiving course a few years before. Two days before the accident my father was cleaning my canopy and noticed how the release knob had frozen. We fixed it right there. Never put off repairs. If it were to freeze up while I was in the aircraft the outcome would have been obviously different.
The fact that the aircraft stayed straight and level allowing me time to evaluate and make my radio calls. Also, why, during my attempt to do an outside snap my hand did not punch the stick forward simultaneously? This allowed me time to prepare.
Upon exiting the aircraft, the canopy opened like a feather, the belts and helmet plug released in seconds. I felt as if someone took me out of the aircraft and placed me in a stable arched position.
I felt no collision with the aircraft, I never knew I struck the aircraft until Al called me and mentioned that there was paint on the container. Fortunately I struck the vertical stabilizer with my left gluteus. For you aerobatic pilots, that's my left butt cheek. What if it was my ribs, kidney, neck or any other body part?
Upon opening of the chute I looked up to confirm it, then looked down and the dust of the impact was directly in my line of sight. Who knows if I would have been able to guide it into the wind without the dust cloud. I had minimal forward speed but was able to avoid all cactus and hit a clear area.
After reviewing the audiotapes from the tower and interviewing the pilot that saw me under the chute it is calculated that my time under the chute was 20-30 seconds. I had no more time to evaluate and study my situation.
For those who have never experienced this situation, remember, rehearse egress. Stay in touch with your parachute rigger. Hopefully, you will invite Allen Silver to your chapter, and never say it will not happen to you.
I discussed this with Gary Douris from Free Flight Enterprises. He calculated that if I waited more than another 3 seconds I would have owed some altitude.
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