Tonight I was in my Cobra B ultralight enjoying the relatively calm cool air above Maryland. I was doing some yankin' and bankin' at about 500' AGL when the right wing buckled and bent back sending me into one incredible spiral. It took a couple seconds for me to realize that I wasn't going to come out of this spin and by then, several hundred feet of airspace closed between me and the ground. I heard the engine speed drop, or at least I THINK I heard it drop. I was looking straight down and saw the soy bean field getting closer and closer. Finally, I heard my instructor's voice in my head telling me to pull the chute. I was very disoriented due to the spinning and it was hard finding the chute handle. Fortunately, BRS paints them bright red. I looked down at it, saw it, and grabbed hold. I yanked as hard as I could and *POW* I heard the charge of the exploding rocket. I kept falling and the ground was VERY close by this time. I remember thinking to myself... "why hasn't the plane been flipped to a horizontal position because of the chute?" then all of a sudden, I felt the chute grab the air as I was jerked. I was only about 15 or 20 feet above the ground when it deployed.
The nose of the plane rammed into the ground and the plane seemed to collapse all around me. I was still suspended in my seat. I had on a seat belt and a shoulder harness that came across my chest. I unbuckled the harness and seat belt and dropped to the ground. Eventually, I found an opening big enough to crawl through. I got out as fast as I could so that the guys with whom
I was flying would know that I was OK. I walked around surveying my plane.
I don't think there's a single piece of tubing that isn't bent or broken. Even the sails have tears in them where there is no reason to be torn. The plane is totaled. even the prop blades are broken.
I got away with a couple knots on the old noodle, 2 cuts on the right side of my head, my glasses are bent, and I have one hell of a head-ache. I don't know what my head hit on. I don't remember feeling anything until after I crawled out from under the plane.
The chute didn't flip me horizontally because the heavy cable from the rocket to the chute lines got tangled in the tail section of the plane because of the spiraling. Kinda confirms the definition of "auguring in." All of us that fly UL's know that anything can happen at any time. It's part of the sport. I've thought a lot about what can happen while flying. When I got out of the plane I wasn't scared or nervous or shaken. I didn't have an adrenalin rush. I was concerned about my plane and the people I was with... I wanted them to know I was OK.
Lessons learned: 1. Be sure to have a rocket deployed parachute on your ultralight. you'd never believe how fast that ground comes up to meet your falling plane. If I would have had only a handdeployed chute I wouldn't be here to write this. (BTW, I have (had) a BRS soft pack chute which hasn't been repacked in probably 6 years - alright, that may be stupid, but it's the truth.) You all know that if I didn't have a chute at all, you'd probably be reading my obituary here instead of my account of the accident.
GET A CHUTE IF YOU DON'T HAVE ONE.
2. Get a good 3 (minimum) or 4 point safety belt system. I'm guessing, but i'll bet I would have sustained a lot more and more severe injuries if I would have been using only a lap belt. The shoulder harness saved my ass (along with the chute). Even when the plane hit the ground, I stayed securely fastened to my seat.
I don't even have a bruise on my chest.
3. get some instructions before flying. I can't believe that I actually heard my instructors voice in my head telling me to pull the chute, but I'm here. Flying without instruction is crazy.
4. Practice what you would do in an emergency. Like I said, I've done a lot of thinking about what to do in an emergency. I practice engine outs and dead-stick landings. I guess there's no way to prepare for what happened to me today, but do what you can to ensure your own safety.
So there you have it. I guess I'm the luckiest pilot in the world today. I was able to, literally, walk away from a 500 foot straight down spiraling fall.
I guess I'll not be flying tomorrow. Damn! the weather is supposed to be perfect for ultralighting.