Pilot Ejected from Airplane at 2,500 Feet

Neither occupant was wearing a seat belt.

Almost inexplicably, neither the instructor nor the experienced owner-pilot of a Zodiac 601-XL (N999NA) was wearing his seat belt on an instructional flight in the newly-acquired aircraft. Following an unexplained “malfunction” that caused a severe pitch-down, the forward-hinged canopy flew open and the student pilot was thrown from the two-seat, side-by-side cockpit.

He fell 2,500 feet to his death, and it took several hours to locate the body, aided by GPS coordinates from a cell phone. The instructor pilot on board was able to regain control of the airplane and land safely, apparently with the canopy still intact. The flight originated at Collegedale Municipal Airport in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The airplane was built by 82-year-old Clarence Andrews, who died in another plane crash last December. His heirs recently sold the airplane to the pilot who died in the fall.

In 2010, the FAA completed a safety review of the Zodiac 601-XL, in which it identified discrepancies in the design that could lead to flutter. Light stick force gradients were another concern of the agency, based on its findings.

In 1912, pioneer aviatrix Harriet Quimby and her passenger William Willard, were ejected from her new Bleriot XI on a flight over Boston Harbor from Squantum, Massachusetts during an air meet. Neither was wearing a seat belt, and both were killed. The airplane glided down to a landing on a marsh, and is thought to be the surviving Bleriot XI currently on display at the Olde Rhinebeck Aerodrome in upstate New York.