What’s Up Wednesday 8/7/19

Technology Aids Pilot During Crash

In late July, a Canadian pilot of a small single-engine prop plane lost oil pressure during flight and wound up crash landing in the Quebec wilderness.  He was able to capture much of the event, his experiences as the ordeal unfolded, on video, the subject of this week’s news.

The airplane’s pilot, Matt Lehtinen, decided to Vlog his experience, hoping to help others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  His vlogging efforts are available through the YouTube video embedded at the bottom of this page.

Matt happened to be flying a Cirrus aircraft that was equipped with the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).  This emergency safety feature allows a pilot to quickly deploy a parachute via an overhead lever inside the cockpit (a unique feature that Cirrus employs on all of its certified models).

CAPS functions this way: the pilot tugs the cockpit lever, deploying a solid-fuel rocket from a hatch on the exterior of the aircraft.  Inside the hatch is a stored parachute.  The rocket launches toward the rear of the airplane.  This permits the parachute to fully deploy (this chute measures a whopping 65 feet in diameter).  After the parachute is released, it has the capacity to reduce (and significantly) the wounded aircraft’s rate of descent.  The chute is also tethered in a manner that will influence a flat (belly first) landing if circumstances on the ground are conducive to it (rather than tail first, nose first, or inverted (upside down) – all common ways for a damaged airplane to come in).

As Lehtinen was traveling over Quebec, a thick forest canopy below, an abrupt drop in oil pressure created an emergency.  Knowing he was in serious trouble, Matt deployed the CAPS and took his chances as the engineless aircraft descended into the thick green blanket under him.  The video doesn’t capture the accident itself.  It begins on the ground, after Matt has survived the crash landing and exited the airplane.

Descending into the trees caused substantial damage to the structure of the aircraft, however Lehtinen himself emerged from the tangled metal without any significant injuries (from a health standpoint, he was very fortunate).  Before his adventure was done, he would need all of his faculties and plenty of clearheadedness.  First he used his emergency SOS (handheld) device to contact emergency services and let them know his location.  These emergency SOS satellite beacons have become increasingly common among boating enthusiasts, kayakers, hikers, snowmobilers, anybody whose activities might take them a remote location (for work or recreation) where immediate help is unavailable in an emergency – if you engage in any of these activities, remember that these inexpensive devices can potentially save your life.

After using the handheld SOS beacon, Matt built a smoky fire that would allow emergency services to pinpoint his exact location from the air.

All the technology used by Matt Lehtinen to escape his disastrous situation would never have existed absent the innovations and amazing work of private companies, many of them small, many of them startups.  This pilot was prepared for the worst, did everything right, and utilized all available resources and innovations to survive an extraordinary event that nobody wants.


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