Manfred's Lesson by Lee Herring - Pull early, pull often! - Safety and Training Programs - Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association

Manfred's Lesson by Lee Herring

Lee Herring started the thread Manfred’s Lesson For Me with this reflection on the death of Manfred Stolle in a fatal Cirrus accident. Many COPA members appreciated these thoughts and wanted to preserve the post, so we asked Lee for permission to include it here.

Manfred and I flew our planes to Charleston, SC where Mason picked us up for lunch. Manfred and I would fly somewhere every month or so. Leaving the Charleston FBO ramp we shook hands and I took off first.

I was the last to see him alive.

I heard Departure clear him to 6,500’. A few minutes later I tried to contact him on the agreed 122.75 but got no response. He reported smoke in the cockpit, but I didn’t hear it as I had moved on to the next controller. I flew on to Asheville and learned of his demise at 5pm when Mason called. Mason knew when Manfred’s wife Barbara called him saying the police had come to her house with the news. I flew to the airport of the crash yesterday. Manfred crashed on the airport property, in line with the runway and only a couple hundred yards away. It appears he stalled just after clearing trees adjacent to the airport. The debris field is small. The PFD was pushed back into his face. A witness said the prop wasn’t turning and Mason says the FAA confirmed that, so maybe an engine failure. Why didn’t he pull the chute; was the engine partially operating until short final?

Today I read the COPA posts debating parachute use and it now all sounds so naïve: “If you have control of the plane fly it and land it.” In fact though, you fly the plane while you have control, then you don’t and you die. Manfred had the runway made, then he didn’t. 3 seconds. Had he turned to the field 3 seconds sooner, or climbed to glide speed 3 seconds sooner, . . .  How can we possibly make all the right decisions in that situation, the entire episode lasting only a few minutes?

Manfred Stolle was a good pilot. He approached flying with the detached methodical approach as any good German would. He used checklists, he had the hours, he flew regularly, he attended CDMs and other training courses, and he regularly flew with an instructor. He took care of his equipment. He was a better pilot than many of us.

I in no way believe my piloting skills are superior to Manfred’s. I believe and hope this has taught me to see the parachute as a “why not” option rather than a “why” option; a first resort rather than a last resort. I hope you take away the same lesson.

I read posts here from confident (and arrogant and naïve) pilots telling us it’s a mistake to pull the chute when you still have most control over the plane. No engine is no control to me, but not to these people. They tell us which square foot of the runway we should be aiming for our dead stick landing, as if that tidbit of wisdom will make all the difference.

Well, STOP IT.

It is not the percentage play and it is not necessary. You are doing a disservice to the majority of pilots reading COPA. We’re not commercial pilots or military pilots; we’re businessmen and accountants and doctors and software designers who fly 125 hours a year. You are just baiting us into a trap with a high likelihood of an unfortunate outcome.

A parachute pull is the right choice 95% of the time when some control is lost. Boiled down to its essence the decision isn’t as complicated as we make it out to be. You may a) pull the chute and you will live and the insurance company will buy you a new airplane, or b) risk your life to land the plane and get to keep the plane you currently have. Where’s the upside in this choice?

Perhaps the “fly it” advocates believe they are selling a point of view for the 5% situation, but that’s not the way our discussions here read, as evidenced by the folks floating convoluted emergency tactics (as below). If we want to debate the nuances of “well, what if I am over the Everglades and there are alligators down there”, fine, let’s do, it’s a fun mental exercise. But let’s not pretend that we shouldn’t have a damned good reason not to put the chute and be alive when we reach the ground. Perhaps our energies should go towards that exception list: cold water or alligators, consider your other options. Think you might be able to glide to an airport, pull the chute.

Others here are sincerely trying to work out an emergency strategy: “I will still consider an attempted landing but I personally need 200' altitude buffer and 1,000 ft per nm from the airport for a straight in landing (adding 10% to that for every 10 knots of headwind).  I'll add 800' to that if I have to make a 90 degree turn, and 1600' if I need to turn 180 degrees.” 

The engine explodes. The cockpit goes quiet. Adrenaline floods the brain. You are shocked at the speed the earth is racing toward you as you fight to stabilize at 87 knots. So you pick a close airport, determine its altitude and begin running through these math quizzes, knowing that a mistake by a few seconds may cost you your life. Are you really willing to bet your life you can pull this off?  Really?

Pull the chute. It is proven that the chute is the best choice. Mr. Beach has the statistics. Your logic and rationalization do not trump data. It’s a fact. And these facts tell us conclusively that your chance of living to tell about it is much greater under the chute.

So, when you have a loss of control emergency, or see one coming, pick the best available spot of earth, descend to 1500’ or so, slow to 100 kts or so, and pull the chute. On the ride down tell ATC where to come get you. On landing get out of the plane, call your family and tell them you love them. Call the insurance company and tell them where THEIR airplane is. Then post your experience on COPA and allow me to call you a Hero and tell you that I am in awe of your exquisite judgment.

Lee Herring

  • I would not be at all surprised if this blog is at some point credited with saving a life.  Thank you Lee.

  • An extremely well written piece. Perhaps it should be required reading before becoming a COPA member and given out by Cirrus Design with each new purchase........................

  • As a newby Cirrus owner, but having flown for 19 years, I appreciate your pragmatic comments about who "we"' are (business owners, doctors, etc.)! As much as I have practiced engine out/return to airport scenarios, the bottom line is: if the engine packs it in, I want to limit the decisions thrust upon me at that moment. In my SR20, it's down to one: pull or not to pull. My new approach is to make the decision based on altitude - high enough for CAPS, PULL! Not high enough - pick the best place to put it down (hopefully it's not off of Sedona, AZ, where there is no such thing!)

    Lee, this post is an example of why I joined COPA. Thanks.

  • Right there with you Kevin.  Lee clearly takes the macho out of the discussion.  As he said, Manfred did everything right.  He studied, trained and worked hard at being safe and competent.  But a minute miscalculation killed him.  I know I am not that good.  My inclinations will clearly be to the chute rather than my flying skills.  In a way, that might make me safer to fly with.  I have one deadstick off airport landing that I walked away from without a scratch.  I was in the pattern, but landed short. I consider that my freebee.  If possible (over 500') the chute will be my plan.

  • Very, very, well said. Thank you!

  • Lee gets it. I have watched pilots killing themselves trying to substitute the "perfect" for the wise for 35 years. In an emergency situation you have nothing to prove to anyone, just keep everyone alive, let us write the check for the hull coverage, and move on with life.

    All of General Aviation would be helped if we could all learn that lesson.

  • I lived by this.

    Thank you, Lee.

    Elaine thanks you, too.

  • I have always believed that this post should be injected frequently into the COPA hive mind.  Lee's words sum up what we ought to be thinking in a way that uses unassailable logic and clarity.  

    Pull the chute and live.

    Dr. McGlaughlin, we're glad to still have you and Elaine.