to his passengers, but he didn’t see the
Cirrus, either, until the last second or two
before the collision. The glider pilot told
the NTSB he saw the Cirrus when it was
very close and feared it would pass between
him and the towplane and hit the line. He
was reaching for the tow release as the
Pawnee and Cirrus collided.
The impact resulted in a large fireball
Could anything have
that the glider flew through unscathed.
Multiple witnesses heard the collision and
saw the Cirrus descending under the
prevented this collision
when three pilots failed
to see a collision threat in
time to avoid disaster?
Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS)
and on fire. The debris field covered a
large area, though the CAPS remained
attached to the central fuselage wreckage
of the Cirrus. The NTSB does not discuss
the CAPS other than to report that wit-
nesses saw it deployed. Did the chute
deploy due to impact forces and fire, or did
the Cirrus pilot pull the handle? We don’t
know. The coroner found that the two peo-
ple in the Cirrus and the Pawnee pilot
were all killed by impact forces with no
mention in the report of the fire having
caused additional injury.
Perhaps a TAS, if it had been installed,
would have detected the apparently intermittently functioning transponder in the
Pawnee in time to issue a warning to the
Cirrus pilot, but maybe not. Radar traffic
advisories from controllers also could
have helped provide warning, but the
pilots didn’t ask for advisories.
What we are left with is the reminder
that it can be almost impossible to see
another small aircraft that is converging
with little change in relative position.
And that an overcast sky also can help
camouflage an approaching airplane. We
must always be watchful, but as this accident reminds us, we may not always be
able to see what we are looking for in
time to avoid a collision, even with six
This article is based solely on the official final
NTSB report of the accident and is intended
to bring reader’s attention to the issues
raised in the report. It is not intended to
judge or reach any definitive conclusions
about the ability or capacity of any person,
living or dead, or any aircraft or accessory.
J. Mac McClellan, EAA 747337, has been a pilot for more
than 40 years, holds an ATP certificate, and owns a
Beechcraft Baron. To contact Mac, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.