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Thread: My Gyroplane accident -- The place to learn and share

  1. #1

    My Gyroplane accident -- The place to learn and share

    On January 6th of 2015 at about 4pm I crashed a gyroplane in the high mountains of Colorado.

    I have had a few tell me how I should have avoided this event but I believe most have just wanted to learn. So I will try to share what I believe lead to the accident as well as what I learned.

    First a description:

    It was a beautiful day with dark blue skies warm sunlight and the clarity that you can only get at high altitude. Visibility was nearly unlimited. A slight wind blew from the north west and strengthened a little as the day progressed. The temperature in Telluride Colorado was 25F at 12:30pm.
    We had just eaten a nice lunch provided by the airport and departed for our first stop Montrose, where we would refuel and pass all our excess baggage to the Cavalon reducing our weight. The 914 turbo Cavalon took full fuel. I decided half fuel was enough weight for the 912 powered Calidus.

    We started our next leg. A flight that would pass just west of Grand Junction. As we approached the high mountains near Grand Junction I made our last radio contact with the lead Cavalon . I let them know our expected arrival time and wished them a good flight. As we approached the ridge I could see that we were not at a good altitude and decided to fly parallel the ridge heading in a more westerly direction as we gained altitude. The ridge also sloped up in this direction but not at a steep angle. I expected to plenty of altitude in a few minutes.

    As we got closer to the ridge our climb rate diminished but I was not overly concerned. I was paying more attention to the scenery and the beauty of the moment. Our journey continued west and north. The ridge climbs up to an area known as the San Rafel Swell past the swell are the high mountains of the Wasatch. At this time of day the air is cooling rapidly and begins to flow dawn the mountains. As we approached US 89 and the final ridge we encountered an area containing a strong downward flow. This flow soon took us lower than the ridge and eventually into the trees.

    As we descended I realized that we were not going to be able to avoid hitting the trees and crashing into the mountains. I relayed this information to the passenger and asked him to pray. Immediately thereafter we brushed the treetops and at the same moment a small clear area came into range I slowed our speed to a stop just at as the rotor blades bit into the low oak brush in the edge of the clearing. The Oak brush severed one rotor blade and mangled the other bringing the rotor to a stop just before our wheels contacted the ground. The gyro impacted the ground and slid a short distance. The gyro came to a stop upright on the main wheels. The nose wheel collapsed and broke into the cabin. The gyro body and canopy were nearly undamaged. On landing the control panel bent and the mag switches were forced into the off position stopping the engine.

    Now the dissection:

    In my opinion there were several factors that lead to this accident.

    1. High altitude -- This could not be avoided but should have been taken more seriously. Oxygen deprivation reduces the cognitive functions and causes euphoria. I was more interested in the beauty of the day than the approaching mountains. The aircraft without the turbo has limited performance.

    2. Failure to anticipate the downward flow of air in the lee side of the ridge. -- I continuously teach students about this and still did not see it coming or even attribute or slowing climb rate to this as we approached the ridge.

    3. Get "homeitis" -- I could have turned south east toward lower terrain. This would have been longer the desire to arrive at the earliest possible time has a large impact.

    4. Continuing the flight into an area with only one route of escape. As we approached the ridge the terrain on our left and right was rising. The intended crossing point looked okay as we approached but there was no second option.

    Things we did right:

    1. Limited the load on the aircraft.

    2. We ate and drank prior to our flight. We also put warm cloths on in Motrose in anticipation of the cooler temps.

    3. Notified others of our intended arrival times and flight route.

    What I did wrong:

    1. Continued flight into an area of high terrain without sufficient altitude to insure safety in a changing environment.

    2. Used an aircraft that had insufficient performance for the flight.

    3. No safety gear or extra food/water were on board.

    Essential things that need to be in the gyro:

    Crash Hammer , Emergency blankets, Energy bars, water, flashlight, mirror, Some way to make a fire. small first aid kit.

  2. #2
    That's a GREAT review ... & lots of good learning information for the rest of us!

    Thanks a LOT Michael.

    The AOPA Flight Safety Institute seminar doing the rounds currently addresses the preparation issues you mention!

  3. #3

  4. #4

    It's not easy to be objective and to be totally candid about a situation like this. The fact that you have taken the time to analyze what happened and share it with the rest of us so that we can learn from your mistakes, says a lot about the kind of person you are. I have no doubt you have learned from this experience and will be an even better pilot in the future. Thank you for being willing to share what happened to you and suggest things we can learn from your experience. We are all so glad that you were not more seriously injured. It's good to have you back with us!


  5. #5
    Thanks for sharing with us on the forum. I'm glad you are ok. I've only talked briefly with you but, you seem like a genuine nice guy. I hope you can make it to Mentone this year and set with us in the shade and talk.

  6. #6
    PRA Secretary JOHN ROUNTREE 41449's Avatar
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    U-Rock... for sharing solely to help other avoid the same thing.

    I will spiral up to elevation over a landing zone because you have shared this with me as it could happen to anyone if you cannot turn 90 degrees to the downdraft and fly out of it.
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  7. #7
    Michael, you've just reinforced my opinion of your openness and willingness to teach and communicate. Since you are a CFI this must give your students confidence in your ability to instruct. Learning to survive is a life time learning experience regardless of the environment one operates in and your ability to articulate and pass on info is gratifying. Thanks for posting here so this info will be available to future PRA members.
    Dean Dolph
    PRA #8907
    Katy, TX.
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