Thanks to many people who have written in about the small-plane crash on Tuesday night near the airport in Danbury, Connecticut (KDXR for you aviation people). This gets my attention because the plane that went down was the same Cirrus model whose design and business concepts I've often written about (book, article, different book) and that I now fly.*
It got attention in the non-flying world because the crash ended up in a "save." The most famous feature of the Cirrus line of aircraft -- which are now the most popular small propeller planes in the world**, from a company founded in Duluth, Minnesota that is now owned by the Chinese state aerospace corporation -- is the parachute for the whole plane. These are designed to save everyone on board (up to four people) when the alternative is a crash. Here is how the parachute looked in test deployments -- bringing the whole plane down more or less level to the ground.
Now, here is a post-crash picture on Tuesday night in Danbury.
It's not entirely clear why the plane is pointing nose-downward. Perhaps the parachute was deployed late, so that its "risers" that level
out the descent did not have time to deploy fully? (Here is a diagram, from my book Free Flight, of what happens with the risers in the few seconds it takes the chute to deploy fully. Read it from right to left.) Perhaps the plane got hung
up on something near the ground? Whatever the reason, the cockpit and cabin were intact, the pilot and passengers were unharmed, and all aboard walked away.
Why did the plane crash at all? For one reason or another, the plane's engine apparently stopped running a few miles short of the Danbury airport. A mechanical failure of some sort? Simply running out of gas, or "fuel starvation," which is statistically the most common cause of small-plane engine failures? All this will be sorted out eventually. The Cirrus has a very sophisticated systems-monitoring device that would presumably survive this crash and that records second-by-second measurements of most flight variables.