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A couple and their two-year-old daughter took off from the airport in Shelter Cover, California when disaster struck. Five minutes into the flight, their single-engine Cirrus SR22 lost power. The pilot realized they were too low over the Mendocino County woods to recover from the dive. Once upon a time, this sort of failure could spell certain death. But luckily, the family’s plane was outfited with a Whole Aircraft Recovery Parachute System, which slowed their fall enough they all only suffered minor injuries.

I know what you’re thinking, a parachute big enough for entire airplanes? This miracle of modern engineering hasn’t always been an option. In fact, it took surviving a fall in a partially-collapsed hang glider in 1975 for inventor Boris Popov to realize the WARP system was even possible.

The system on the SR22 was the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, designed specifically for that plane. It was the first of its kind certified by the FAA (1998), and Cirrus is the only aircraft company offering a Ballistic Recovery Systems chute as standard equipment.

An ultralight Cirrus aircraft descending by parachute, mountains visible in the background.
Cirrus Airplane Parachute System | Cirrus Aircraft

Of course a system like this has shortcomings. The Shelter Cover Fire Department pointed out that the plane was destroyed crashing through the forest during the uncontrolled landing. The parachute actually got caught in the trees, leaving the plane suspended 100 feet above the ground. Then it broke lose and the plane plummeted the rest of the way. Yikes!

“Despite the challenging terrain, all three occupants of the aircraft sustained only minor injuries, thanks to the aircraft’s built-in parachute system…Even with the parachute the parties involved were extremely fortunate to only receive minor injuries.”

Shelter Cover Fire Department

Captain Quincy Cromer of the Sheriff’s Department added, “These are usually worst-case scenarios. The fact that they had only minor scratches and abrasions is a miracle.”

The family, who hails from Roseville, 170 miles southeast of the crash, was presumably on their way home. Here’s to hoping them all a speedy recovery. Meanwhile, The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

Next, read about heroic high schoolers who lifted a crashed Subaru of a mother and toddler, or if you’re feeling brave, you can see onboard video of a different Cirrus airplane deploying its parachute during a dizzying spin, embedded below: