By Nathan A. Ferguson
Patrick Dean of Clarksville, Md., spent eight and a half years of his life—off and on, at least—building an airplane. His wife laid out one condition for the project: It must have an airframe parachute. That was the very thing that ended up saving his life.
After spending 1,000 man-hours working on a SlipStream Genesis, an aluminum tube and fabric two-seater, Dean, 42, took off on Jan. 5 out of Laurel, Md., with a video camera rolling. At 400 or 500 feet in the air, the airplane began rolling uncontrollably; the ailerons weren’t functioning. While Dean was in a fight for his life he was also on the eve of clarity.
After a series of breaks, the airplane spun around, and he decided to pull the Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS) emergency parachute. At that moment the airplane was pointed toward the ground. Then came the slapping of tree branches. The timing of the deployment, the length of the shroud lines, and the height of the trees were such that it spared Dean’s life by a sliver.
Bystanders along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway found him snarled in the wreckage, and it took a dozen hands or so to extricate the pilot. Dean escaped with a broken and lacerated nose and bruised legs.
The FAA is currently looking into the accident and reviewing the videotape. The agency had inspected the airplane prior to its maiden flight and deemed it airworthy.
After the accident, Dean’s wife sent a message to BRS employees: “Thank you very, very much for making these parachutes!” It marked the 208th documented life saved for the company.
January 24, 2008