Recently, a forum discussion on BeechTalk posited concerns about landing in water under the Cirrus parachute system (CAPS). Since the landing gear would not touch firm ground, the concern arose about the higher impact energy for occupants. Fortunately, other design features have ensured survivable outcomes in all of the CAPS deployments over water, such as the 3-inch honeycomb aluminum seat pans for the front occupants, the crush zone under the rear seats, the side yoke to avoid impalement injuries, the flat instrument panel with padded glareshield.
From accident investigation reports, we have seen six CAPS deployments that resulted in water landings:
Haverstraw, NY (Hudson River) 2005 -- pilot blacked out due to a brain tumor, woke up in a Vne dive, recovered, but realized his leg was compromised so he deployed CAPS and landed in the river. He described water splashing up to the top of the cockpit windows, so fuselage moved water out of the way. He suffered fractures of his lower back. Likely he was not properly positioned with seat back upright and pressed against the seat. Pilot was snowboarding 6 months later and flew with instructors until his brain tumor returned and he quit flying.
Patterson, LA 2008 -- pilot lost engine power (probably fuel exhaustion, but no investigation was conducted). Plane landed in a bayou and was recovered on an air boat, repaired and flew again. No injuries.
Hamilton Island, Australia 2009 -- pilot reported partial engine power, attempted to return to airport when he could not climb above 600'. Pilot froze when the engine finally seized and pulled at 441' MSL (from data). Plane entered the water nose low and pilot was injured due to his unorthodox brace position when he grabbed the handles on the cockpit roof and tore several shoulder muscles. Pilot broke out of the rear seat window (he was big, 6'4" and probably 240 pounds), surfaced, and was rescued. He was hospitalized with soft tissue injuries, recovered and continued selling Cirrus aircraft.
New Orleans, LA 2011 -- pilot reported catastrophic engine failure during IMC departure. Attempted return to airport but deployed 4 miles short of runway and landed in Lake Ponchartrain. Pilot remained on empennage in the fog until found by fishermen about 45 minutes later. No injury.
Andros Island, Bahamas 2012 -- pilot deployed due to catastrophic engine failure on his monthly trip to Haiti. Plane landed in ocean. Pilot reported hard impact, but both occupants were uninjured and managed to enter their life raft. Pilot bought a replacement within 5 weeks and was flying to Haiti soon after.
La Guajira, Colombia 2013 -- midair collision broke tail off airplane, so pilot deployed CAPS immediately. Plane landed in ocean with no injuries.
There actually was a seventh CAPS deployment that landed on water . . .
Alexander, MN 2013 -- pilot attempted to manhandle a broken flap actuator but could not turn left, resulting in an unusual attitude low to the ground and pulled CAPS -- another CAPS deployment landed on a lake -- frozen! No fear. The landing gear are not needed to absorb energy when landing in water -- or trees, or powerlines, or swamps, or mountain slopes, or orchards. CheersRick
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