Cirrus Parachute Saves Wisconsin Couple

Aircraft crashed in a heavily wooded area near Aspen.

Cirrus SR22 accident site
The aircraft came to rest on a steep snowy mountainside about 5 miles north of Aspen.Jane Pargiter/EcoFlight

A Cirrus SR22T, N288WT, on January 27, 2020, crashed in mountainous terrain about five miles northeast of Aspen, Colorado (ASE), not long after takeoff. Both occupants, a couple from Verona, Wisconsin, near Madison, survived the mid-morning crash without injury after the pilot activated the aircraft’s ballistic parachute system. Rick Beach, safety chairman at the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) told Flying the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System is credited with saving the lives of 192 people in 96 successful chute deployments.

Approximately two minutes after departing ASE’s Runway 33, the pilot of 288WT, on a VFR flight, reported a problem with the aircraft’s airspeed indicator and asked to return to the airport. The pilot also reported at about 21:00 into a LiveATC recording that she had nearby terrain in sight and did not require any further assistance. The tower subsequently cleared the pilot to land on Runway 15. The tower reminded the pilot the minimum vectoring altitude in her area at the time—the lowest altitude at which ATC could suggest headings—was 12,100 ft. Shortly thereafter, the pilot deployed the parachute after reporting ground contact had been lost.

Cirrus SR22 accident site
The SR22T's orange parachute can be seen in the bottom right quadrant of this image, close to the snow clearing.Jane Pargiter/EcoFlight

The LiveATC recording confirms people on board the aircraft were able to maintain solid radio contact with ASE tower after coming to rest. The Aspen Daily News said the pilot called the Pitkin County Sheriff via cellphone and said the Cirrus, “crashed into a densely wooded area on an extremely steep mountainside after deploying the aircraft’s built-in parachute. Both occupants of the aircraft were sheltering inside but neither was equipped to spend the night.”

A Pitkin County Sheriff’s office news release said approximately twenty-five members of Mountain Rescue Aspen were activated and deployed to retrieve the two aircraft occupants. Rescuers used skis, snowshoes, and snowmobiles, eventually reaching the couple at 6:25 pm that same evening. Rescuers reported the aircraft was lodged amidst a forest of pine trees and that the aircraft’s parachute was tangled in the trees and was holding the aircraft in place. Rescuers and the occupants were able to begin the long trek back to safety about 9 pm, some 12 hours after the accident.