Lessons learned from a fatal Cirrus accident in Zurich

On a recent trip to Germany, Rick Beach decided to take a detour to the Zurich Airport, which also happened to be the site of fatal Cirrus accident #42, and has written an excellent post on the Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association (COPA) blog containing his impressions of the crash site along with some important advice that every pilot should heed when faced with an emergency situation.

In this particular incident, the aircraft experienced a system failure and the pilot decided to divert to Zurich. Unfortunately, the plane crashed several hundred meters short of the runway while attempting to maneuver through low clouds in order to get lined up for a landing.

After reading accounts of the crash and seeing the actual site, Rick offers several important pieces of advice that are well worth repeating again:

  • When in trouble, get help from people on the ground.  Declare an emergency.  Ask for help.  Use it when you get it.
  • Maneuver if you must, but do it skillfully.  Keep the airplane flying.  Yanking and banking low to the ground must pose greater risk.  Move smoothly and deliberately.  And have a Plan B if things don’t work out.
  • Avoid giving up altitude.  You may need it for CAPS.  When stuck in the clouds with an emergency, think of CAPS as your safe landing card.  Sure there are risks, but crashing is worse.
  • Commercial airports are really big!  A CAPS pull over one has lots of advantages – open space, few obstructions, emergency response within a mile.  Ask for help and the controllers know exactly where to send you.  Great place to drop in, so to speak.
  • Don’t worry about shutting down airport operations.  If you parachute in, you can tell them you are okay.  If you crash, they will take longer to secure the wreckage.

And remember, damaging an expensive aircraft but staying physically safe is always a much better option than choosing to risk the aircraft, your life, the lives of your passengers and the lives of those on the ground.


2 Responses to Lessons learned from a fatal Cirrus accident in Zurich

  1. Vincent, from Plasti September 19, 2009 at 18:24 #

    A question from a non-Cirrus pilot: what is the minimal height required to pull the chute and land safely ?

    While I understand the "avoid giving up altitude" tip, but as far as I remember, this accident started with an alternator failure. The preliminary report ( http://www.bfu.admin.ch/common/pdf/N467BD.pdf – in German only) mentions that "other problems" occurred during the approach. Is is possible that these supplementary problems occurred at a moment when using the CAPS was no longer possible ?

  2. Dan Collins September 30, 2009 at 11:37 #


    The POH doesn't specifiy a minimum altitude for CAPS deployment but suggests 2000ft AGL. Depending on airspeed and attitude, CAPS has taken between 400-1000ft altitude loss to deploy and stabilise so you could theoretically deploy lower than 2000ft.

    I haven't read the report (my German is non-existant!) but it sounds like they didn't consider CAPS, probably thinking they could make the runway.

    Unless the second alternator and both batteries also failed, they should have had enough power for the relevant instruments to complete the approach.

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