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Cirrus parachute deploys, saves pilot

The innovative Cirrus Design parachute system designed to minimize the impact of a plane crash was put to the test in Texas.

The pilot walked away from the first crash of a Cirrus airplane in which the parachute was deployed in an emergency situation. No one else was on board. He was taken to a local hospital for a check up, but no injuries were reported.

The FAA is investigating the Thursday afternoon crash, which occurred between Lewisville and Carrollton in Denton County, Texas. Denton County is located near Dallas-Fort Worth.

A team from Cirrus went to the site, including president and CEO Alan Klapmeier, safety expert Mike Busch, and Paul Johnston, who was involved with the design of the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System.

First reports had the crash occurring on a golf course, while later descriptions called it a wooded area. The aircraft was confirmed to be a Cirrus model SR22, the bigger, more powerful model of the Duluth-built composite plane.

Photographs by a local Texas TV station showed part of the plane buried in the ground and the large parachute opened nearby. The accident happened at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, according to a Cirrus owners Internet chat list. Witnesses reported that the downed plane was mostly intact.

The list reported that the unidentified pilot was talking to a local airport control tower and reported having trouble with a wing flap that eventually fell off.

"He told them that he was going to deploy the parachute and he did," said John Clabes, an FAA spokesman quoted by the list. On Friday, the agency confirmed that the SR22's left aileron (wing flap) separated from the plane during the flight and the ballistic parachute deployed.

The plane had departed nearby Addison Airport on a pleasure flight and was to return to the same airstrip. The Internet list reported that the SR22 had just come out of the shop for a service procedure that involved removing that wing flap.

Cirrus engineers have explained that while the parachute system is a life-saving device, its deployment ends the useful life of the aircraft. It's a fact that even the insurance companies are comfortable with, according to Cirrus communications manager Kate Andrews.

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