Propeller Safety and Lauren Scruggs' Accident

Investigators aren’t sure why Scruggs didn’t see the propeller” she walked into last night. 

Um, maybe because a spinning propeller is pretty much invisible? Especially at nightLauren Scruggs?

News reports are that incidents such as Lauren Scruggs', who is a model and fashion blogger, are rare. Maybe, but it would depend on what one means by “rare.”  Seems that someone is killed or seriously injured by a spinning prop every year. Some reports of incidents from my local area alone are here and here.

During the day, spinning propellers have a mesmerizing effect. People have been known to see them, yet walk right into them. 

Of course, at night, propellers can be virtually invisible.

In almost all prop-strike cases, pilot error plays a role. A pilot needs to think carefully before allowing a passenger to deplane with the engine running. Here, apparently, theAviat Husky pilot allowed Scruggs to exit the aircraft with the engine running so that another passenger could take her seat. Certainly it would have been safer to shut down the engine of the Aviat Husky he was flying before allowing passengers to leave or approach the aircraft. “Hot loading” – allowing passengers to get into the aircraft with the engine running -- is safe only when the passengers have been carefully briefed on procedures.  Even then, it's best permitted only with the help of a trained spotter who walks one passenger away from the aircraft and then walks the next passenger in.

Here are some common guidelines for propeller safety:

  • The aircraft engine should be shut down before boarding or deplaning passengers. This is the simplest method of avoiding accidents.
  • Boarding or deplaning of passengers, with an engine running, should only be allowed under close supervision. The pilot in command should have knowledge that either the company or the airport operator has ground attendants fully trained in their specific duties to board or deplane passengers from an aircraft with an engine(s) running. The pilot should instruct passengers, before they exit an aircraft with an engine(s) running, the path to follow to avoid the propeller or rotor blades.
  • When it is necessary to discharge a passenger from an aircraft on which an engine is running, never stop the aircraft with the propeller in the path of the passenger's route from the aircraft.

 

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Comments (7) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Anon - December 6, 2011 3:48 PM

Mike: I have personally seen a prop strike-human accident, been at the scene of 2 more, and investigated about 6 more after the fact. What you've written is correct. There are several other factors that I have found in my work. The strikes I've seen (actually) and investigated involved persons that were either pilots or were quite familiar with airplanes, their propellers and dangers.

Here's what commonalities I've seen: First: a sensory-deprived environment, (beyond the illusion of non-hazard, ie spinning objects can not be seen, therefore the brain lacks hazard-association)(night of course too)...but the most limiting sense is "sound" either by noisy environment or the person wearing sound attenuation. This is a deadly limit to sensory awareness. Earplugs or sound-attenuating headsets can be deadly as a limit to one's awareness of surroundings. I'm not referring to someone shouting a warning, unheeded. There is a well known limit to one's sense of bumping, stepping or touching to his/her surroundings.

Secondly, we learn by the principles of primacy and recency. Example: If you're always used to stepping out an aircraft side door and walking aft clear of the prop, (primacy learning), a great human trap exists if you exit a door in another model airplane "forward" of the props. Likewise, without primacy (redundant experience), you are most likely, in an emergency or confusion to revert to the route you took "most recently." This is learning by the principle of recency. (ie "the flight attendant's briefing -- the door you came in, may not be the closest door to you)...so disasterously seen in the runway collision of the B737 and the Skywest at LAX. So many lost as they attempted to escape the L1 door. A person without hesitation will try to walk though the arc of a prop that prevously was not spinning.

Anyway...many human factors, not limited to a pilot's failure to warn. A pilot can warn someone, and he/she will go right into harms way.

anon

Mike Danko - December 6, 2011 8:28 PM

anon -

Thanks for the comment. Being at the scene of one of these accidents must have been horrible.

anon - December 6, 2011 8:52 PM

The one I saw was while I was sitting at the controls of an S2F. 10 airplanes on the ramp running twin 1820s. Props swing within 18" of ground. Taxi signal man waving the next airplane out of his parking spot, backed into the prop of an S2F opposite across the alley. Blew him apart.

Ones I was there for but didn't see: First, a Coastie jumped out of a C123 and ran the wrong way with a fire extinguisher through the spinning prop. He was a HU16 crewman and used to walking under the Albatross props that clear the ground by 10 feet.

Next, on St. Lawrence Island, a native passenger, "forgot" something in the terminal, ran around wing...bang. Dead.

Ones I investigated: Alaskan bush pilot got his Supercub stuck in mud. Pulling on lift strut, He slipped, fell backwards. Troopers found him 3 days later still there. Airplane had run several days at idle, ran out of gas.

Numerous prop strikes on at the docks with float planes. Passengers and pilots hot loading Beavers, 185s, 206s.

So, so many.

lazareth - January 22, 2012 5:54 PM

If I were the parents of Lauren I'd most certainly be blaming the pilot for this and/or the company in charge of these Xmas flights. He was bypassing safety by not shutting down so he could get more people up in the air faster, to make more money that night. Period. That's what it sounds like to me.

If these were friendly flights (no pay) he still should have taken the time to shut down for safety sake, each time.

If he was insisting on leaving the engine running during loading/unloading there should have been somebody on the ground, working with him, to escort the passengers on/off the plane in an orderly, safe manner.

This could have been easily avoided. At least she survived and wasn't more wounded than she was. Most perish unfortunately.. My heart goes out to her and her family.

Idiots on the internet blaming this accident on her blonde hair make me so pissed off.

Licensed A/P mechanic here.

Mike Danko - January 22, 2012 9:22 PM

Thanks for the comment lazareth. People who haven't been around planes have no idea how disorienting it is to stand outside an aircraft when the engine is running. At night, multiply that times ten.

More on this here => http://www.aviationlawmonitor.com/2012/01/articles/accident-investigation-1/scruggs-accident-was-pilots-warning-adequate/

LDTX - March 27, 2012 5:43 PM

It is like saying that I take a NYC taxi, and he pulls over to the curb with the car running to let me out. I then walk around the car into oncoming traffic and sue him or to the front of his car when he goes to drive off and he hits me.

Sorry - This was as much her fault as the pilot for this incident. As horrible as it is, sometimes accidents happen. She will have to justify her income as a model. I find it hard to believe that she had much of a modeling career other than her own blog.

Aerocountry has had an uphill battle with the neighborhood surrounding it and this is the last thing that they need there. Hopefully she stays away from airports and her passion for flying is now over.

Rich Martin - December 3, 2012 1:38 PM

On the one year anniversary of this tragic accident, check out a news story that ran in NC about this time a year ago.

http://coastal.news14.com/content/top_stories/650876/nc-company-helps-make-aircrafts-safer-with-illuminating-paint-for-propeller’s

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