That’s the number one question I’ve been asked about this accident. Not "why did the accident happen," but "why didn’t the pilot use the parachute?"
As I note here, most Cirrus pilots would say that the parachute should be deployed in the event of engine failure, unless there is a long, paved runway beneath the aircraft such that a safe on-airport landing is assured. But that doesn’t mean that, if there is no airport within range, a pilot who opts to glide to a field rather than pull the chute is negligent.
Pulling the parachute has serious risks. The aircraft’s rate of descent under the parachute is high. Ground impact forces are severe. Cirrus warns that the decision to deploy the parachute should
not be made lightly because parachute deployment may result in "severe injury or death to the aircraft occupants."
The Cirrus, like every aircraft, comes with a Pilot Operating Handbook. That’s the "bible" that the pilot is supposed to follow. The emergency checklist for an "engine out" scenario does not mention the parachute system:
Forced Landing (Engine Out): If all attempts to restart the engine fail and a forced landing is imminent, select a suitable field and prepare for the landing.
A suitable field should be chosen as early as possible so that maximum time will be available to plan and execute the landing. . .
The checklist then sets forth the 12-step "forced landing" checklist. No mention of the parachute, anywhere.
In the back of the Handbook, there is a separate section on the use of the parachute. This section lays out various scenarios in which the pilot should consider deploying the parachute, such as after a mid-air collision, aircraft structural failure, or loss of aircraft control One scenario deals with engine failures:
Landing Required in Terrain not Permitting a Safe Landing
If a forced landing is required because of engine failure, fuel exhaustion. . .or any other condition, [parachute] activation is only warranted if a landing cannot be made that ensures little or no risk to the aircraft occupants. However, if the condition occurs over terrain thought not to permit such a landing, such as: over extremely rough or mountainous terrain, over water out of gliding distance to land, over widespread ground fog or at night, [parachute] deployment should be considered.
The pilot was not over "extremely rough or mountainous terrain." He had apparently picked out what he believed to be a suitable field for a forced landing. The Cirrus Pilot Operating Handbook does not require pilots to deploy the parachute in the situation this pilot faced. To the contrary, the Handbook leaves that decision to the pilot’s discretion:
It is the responsibility of you, the pilot, to determine when and how the [parachute system] will be used.
Related Post: Cirrus Crash at Morton, Washington