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Cirrus plane over Australia lands using parachute system (with video)

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A Cirrus SR22 descends with its parachute system deployed on Saturday in Lawson, west of Sydney, Australia. Two people aboard the plane escaped serious injury as the parachute of the Duluth-built plane brought the aircraft safely to the ground. (Photo by Amy Davis)2 / 2

Two people aboard a Cirrus plane over Australia escaped serious injury Saturday when the pilot successfully deployed the model SR22’s parachute system after encountering problems during a flight near Sydney.

The plane came to rest Saturday in the yard of a home in Lawson, a community in the Blue Mountains about 40 miles west of Sydney.

Part of its descent was captured in photos and on video.

Eyewitness Amy Davis told the News Tribune that she and her boyfriend were walking to a lookout in the Blue Mountains on Saturday when they saw the plane descend.

"On our way back we heard a light plane overhead, then we heard a really loud, strange noise and looked over to see that a parachute had been deployed above the plane and it was slowly and quietly drifting down towards the town of Lawson," Davis, who took photos of the plane, recounted in an e-mail. "We didn't really know what was going on; it's not something you see every day, a plane with a parachute above it falling slowly to the ground."

There was no official word on what caused the mishap; eyewitness Greg Howlett told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that “the motor just cut out. The engine just stopped.”

But the reason for the crash landing remains under investigation, according to Bill King, vice president of business administration for Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft. King told the News Tribune that pilots are trained to cut the engine when attempting to deploy the emergency parachute.

The incident has been referred to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the pilot deployed the parachute at a height of about 4,000 feet and the plane then drifted to the ground, avoiding homes and power lines; photos from the scene showed the plane’s tail broken from the rest of the fuselage.

One person aboard the plane was taken to a hospital with neck pain, the newspaper reported; no one was seriously injured.

The registration number on the plane indicated that it is owned by Cirrus Aircraft. King confirmed that the company-owned plane was on a demonstration flight when the emergency landing occurred. He said no Cirrus staff members were onboard at the time of the incident.

Cirrus planes are equipped with CAPS, the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System. Cirrus reported on its website Sunday that 87 lives had been saved by the unique whole-plane parachute system, which comes standard on every airplane that rolls off the company’s production line in Duluth.  The latest two saves recorded in Australia will bring that total to 89.

Despite the track record of lives saved, there have been fatal crashes of Cirrus planes in which pilots did not deploy the parachute, when evidence suggests they could have.

“I can’t begin to describe the absolute frustration we feel, realizing that the outcome of an incident should have been a cellphone call home saying, ‘Honey, I’m going to be late for dinner,’ instead of a sheriff knocking at the door,” King told the News Tribune last year. “It’s extremely frustrating to see families in absolute agony and crisis for no good reason.”

But with each successful deployment, King said, pilots’ awareness and confidence in the system has grown. The company has devoted money and resources to educate Cirrus pilots about the parachute system, triggered by a simple pull of a handle in the plane’s cockpit.