You may recall a big accident happened in Italy on 31st May 2015 during an Airshow along the Adriatic sea. My close friend and formation flying pal, Marco Ricci, died in the accident, I could ditch my RV7, I-AMEL, in the sea and come out with a minor brush on my left hand.
There’s a great analysis that AOPA USA have made on it, just to help to recall and there are some interesting thoughts that I would like to share with you on the ditching itself. Here's AOPA Live:
AOPA Live 4 June 2015
Few words on the accident itself which was deeply analyzed by our national NTSB (ANSV): we flew this routine so many times during our formation training with the help of formers Frecce Tricolori pilots (Frecce Tricolori are the Italian Blue Angels), including the day before for the saturday “test” of the Airshow. Therefore it was absolutely a surprise (for me) the abrupt “recovery” from the inverted flight of my pal (while I was flying under it), Marco Ricci. That was not the plan, no radio call for distress and no usual recovery from inverted flight without loss of altitude.
Everything has been X-rayed from the italian NTSB: “luckily” (in order to understand the probable cause of the incident), that day we had many GoPro mounted, including one in the cockpit of Marco, directly facing the pilot. The GoPro was initially lost in the sea, but found by someone and sent anonimously to the Italian Coast Guard 2 days after the accident. From this video and the post mortem, the probable cause has been found on the incapacitation of the pilot for a “stroke” (not exactly a stroke, I am not a cardiologist).
You can download (unfortunately in Italian) the full PDF report on www.ansv.it
., maybe using Google Translate.
Why am I writing only now?
Well, first of all, I restarted flying with my own plane (actually an Extra 330 LT). I continued flying almost immediately; a friend of mine, just 1 month after the accident, lent me his RV10 for a tour in Italy and I continued flying as a flight instructor on Tecnams, but it’s not like having your plane.
Another reason is how valuable is this forum and, as you will read later, there are lessons that I have red on this forum which came handy (and actually remembered!) during my ditching (believe it or not). I am sure that I can give some suggestions in the unlikely (as the PA on airliners say) of ditching with an RV.
Quick note, I have a full video (which is not pubblic) of my ditching (one GoPro was mounted facing forward on the back of my RV7), so what I am writing here, is clearly visible, so no “allucinations” after an accident.
Anyway you can see a lot of videos on YouTube (there were TV and more than 50K people on the beach), just search for “Incidente Alba Adriatica” (Incident in Alba Adriatica, which is the city along the coast where the Airshow took place).
My experience on RV7 is consistent, I made my FAA License in 1994 then European one in 1995 and I logged more than 1.000 hrs as a PIC on my RV7 (sliding canopy, O-360-A1A and Sensenich then Hartzel Scimitar Prop), flying X-countries (also from Italy to Morocco, which is not a short hop), pylon races with the 3R British Association and a lot of short grass fields in Italy, usually 1.500 ft, no IFR. One thing that should be mentioned is that just 2 years before my ditching, I have made a water egress training test with a professional guy in a pool (although I am a good swimmer, I am 1.90 mt tall and thinking of ditching in the relatively small cockpit of the RV has been always something that I thought possible due to long X-country on open waters).
The whole thing from the mid air collision to the egress from the cockpit lasted a little bit more than 2 minutes (2 minutes and 20 seconds), but lot of things happened and many things were thought, analyzed and made.
In the whole process of ditching, things were really calm (until a certain point that I will explain) and that’s not because I have steel nerves, but just for one simple and understandable reason.
A catastrophic mid air collision is something that you can hardly tell and that’s what I thought during the big collision: I clearly remember (you can see from the video) a lot of noise, litterally falling from the sky with a lot of negaive g's, a big shade in the cockpit, my canopy obscured by the wing of the other aircraft and the nose down 30 degree (starting at just 500 feet AGL) with the sea approaching. I thought: OK, now it’s going to finish. This is so vivid.
For pure luck, although left wing was really damaged, prop bent, engine out, left flap bent and after a difficult recovery at just 40 feet from the sea, I found the aircraft controllable (almost) with light again “ON” in my cockpit.
I was so surprised (after being 100% sure that I was going to die) that I thought: “OK, I have to ditch, but the worst has passed, prepare yourself”.