The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating all of the jump plane-related accidents mentioned in this article and has released only its Preliminary Report (the initial report) and in some cases its Factual Report (the second report that contains additional information gathered during the investigation). After completing its investigations, the NTSB will issue a final report for each accident, which will determine the accident’s probable cause.
In 2019’s sole fatal jump plane accident, 10 skydivers and their pilot perished in a horrific crash of a King Air 90 on June 21 at Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia, Hawaii. According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, “A parachute instructor at OPC [Oahu Parachute Center] observed the boarding process and watched as the airplane taxied west to the departure end of runway 8. He could hear the engines during the initial ground roll and stated that the sound was normal, consistent with the engines operating at high power. When the airplane came into his view as it headed toward him, it was at an altitude of between 150 and 200 feet above ground level and appeared to be turning. He could see its belly, with the top of the cabin facing the ocean to the north. The airplane then struck the ground in a nose-down attitude, and a fireball erupted.”
The much-anticipated NTSB Final Report on this accident may still be up to a year away. Undoubtedly there are important lessons to be learned from this, the deadliest jump plane crash since a 1995 Beechcraft Queen Air crash that killed 12.
Three accidents resulted in no injuries to skydivers or their pilots:
Since USPA is not the investigating authority for aircraft accidents and the NTSB Final Reports are not yet available, the information above simply relates the known facts. However, it’s clear that even appropriately rated commercial pilots must receive thorough training prior to flying skydivers. That training must include aircraft-specific systems, preflight inspections, weight-and-balance considerations and proper fuel management. Because pilots, skydivers and drop zone operators are jointly responsible for compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations Part 105, it’s essential that pilots understand and comply with all sections of the regulation.
Piloting a jump plane is among the most demanding of flying jobs, with multiple takeoffs and landings in a variety of conditions and with a variety of loads, as well as the need to refuel often throughout a day. Pilots should fly every flight professionally. A variety of resources—the USPA Skydiving Aircraft Operations Manual and Jump Pilot Training Syllabus, a Flight Operations Handbook and the articles “Formation Flying 101” and the Federal Aviation Administration’s “Aircraft Control After Engine Failure on Takeoff”—are available under the Governance tab at uspa.org. Jump pilots and skydiving aircraft operators should use these resources as part of a proactive safety-management system.
NTSB reports and data summaries are located in the Aviation Accident Database at ntsb.gov.
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