NIGEL HOPKINS- Nigel Hopkins experienced the loss of engine and wing during a practice flight before the World Aerobatic Championship 2015. He was able to jump out of what remained of the plane and survive. The accident is well described by the picture above (photo taken from facebook).
After this shocking experience, here is Nigel's advice to other pilots, unedited.
"The last few weeks after the incident have been a bit of a blur and also time to reflect. I've avoided too much discusion mainly to stay away from sensationalism and to take some time out. Although we still wait for the investigation to hopefully reveal some answers I have been asked many questions about what lessons can be learned from it all. Still trying to make sense of the life lessons here but we can certainly take some positives and if the following "article" can save one life then it will be of service. Please feel free to share if it may benefit safety within your operation. Evidence or Scenario based training, touch drills or muscle memory. Whichever way one looks at it, as Pilots, there comes a time where dynamic decision-making and instinctive reactions are required to handle an unexpected situation. For many years the industry has developed decision-making and risk management tools, which hopefully become ingrained as actions rather than checks! Over the last few years the industry has focused on handling the startle factor. Loss of control in flight is aviations biggest threat and current upset training programs have highlighted the need for a strategy to assist in handling the startle factor and applying time critical handling procedures to regain control. Over the past few weeks I have been asked many questions about the thought process and actions after the structural failure of my aircraft. What went through your mind? You must have got one serious fright? Did you do specific bail out training? Do you believe your previous sky diving experience helped? What training do you think we should do now? So if I may, I will share some of the answers and thought processes with you. Have a little thought about your own activities and flying operations and consider how these could relate to your own preparedness and decision making processes. As for my aerobatic friends if these answers can save just one life then the job is done! As a start, there was no warning of any failure. There was a loud bang followed by a loss of control, STARTLE FACTOR! There are times, as with a structural failure where the assessment of the failure is easy, time is critical. In this instance muscle memory was key! There was no time or need for checklist procedures. Unlatch the canopy, release the seat belts, evacuate the plane, locate and pull the ripcord. A scenario played out on occasions but I have to admit there was never specific training for this kind of scenario. Within about 5 seconds I found myself hanging under a parachute, something I always considered to be a very expensive cushion and certainly had no expectation of using. Now what? It took a few seconds to realize the extent of what had just happened, it had been 24 years since my last parachute jump, and that one was intentional! Although there was a huge feeling of relief there were also some questions, do I have control of this round parachute, which way is the wind blowing, where am I going to land and how hard will the touchdown be? So what can Aerobatic Pilots do to prepare themselves? Is there a strategy or touch drill exercise or can we develop an emergency checklist? There is no substitute for actual experience so a skydiving course is obviously first prize! 1. Equip yourself and know your safety equipment: Parachutes are designed to be lifesavers so equip yourself with a life saving tool and ensure that you look after it. The fact that we sit on these devices means they need to be inspected and repacked regularly. Manufactures recommend every 6 months. As the Pilot you should inspect the chute regularly by checking the ripcord and pin that holds in the Pilot chute and ensure they are not obstructed. 2. Know how to use your safety equipment: ICARUS AIRWEAR has been responsible for packing my chute over the last 5 years. Something that they insisted on is that I deliver the chute myself, that I physically pull the ripcord and release the Pilot chute when I arrive. Two reasons for this, firstly I now know that they will have to repack it, but more importantly it’s the only opportunity to develop a muscle memory of locating the cord, understanding how to pull it, with which hand and also how far I need to pull it for the cord to release the chute! - Strapping in and Unstrapping: Here is an opportunity to develop that muscle memory. Always ensure that your parachute is fitted properly and the straps are secure. After you secure the parachute, before climbing in to the plane, grab and feel the position of the ripcord and have a mental picture of how you will pull it. When you fasten your seatbelts ensure that they do not obstruct or interfere with the parachute. Test the operation of the canopy latch system and if fitted locate the quick release mechanism. As you close the canopy before start do a quick touch drill by locating the canopy latches, the seatbelts and the ripcord! After shutdown this is the perfect opportunity to practice the procedure for real. Open the canopy, release the seatbelts, stand up and locate the ripcord! As far as the actual bailout goes every scenario will be different. Some have had to physically stand up and oppose the forces of an unstable aircraft and then have to jump clear. The aircraft may very well be stable which will make the exit easier. It may be inverted, zero or negatively G loaded in which case the Pilot will “float” or be “thrown” from the aircraft as soon as the seatbelts are released. These are all scenarios to consider and have a basic plan for. As far as how much altitude is needed, once again every situation is different based on the stability of the aircraft at the time. But one thing is for sure, if you are not ready, or stay with the aircraft, the outcome is not going to be favorable. You cannot avoid the startle factor, especially when you are in another state of mind such as focusing on the maneuver you're about to do, there is little opportunity to mitigate that but how you react in the time constraints is paramount to survival in some cases. Life is risky, the things we choose to do in life are risky but how we manage the risks is what is important! Remember, Confidence comes from discipline and Training!"