Poor training cited in Wisconsin skydivers midair collision

The National Transportation Safety Board has completed its investigation into the November 2013 mid-air collision of two airplanes full of skydivers over Superior, Wis.

It cited the lack of guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration on how pilots should fly formation flights with skydivers. Consequently, the NTSB said, the owner of the skydiving company “did not provide its pilots skydiving formation flight training, and it did not keep records of pilot training nor was it required to do so by the FAA.”

“If both pilots had received adequate skydiving formation flight training, they might have had a consensus about how the formation flight should have been flown,” it said in its report. “If the trail airplane pilot had received such training, he might have been more vigilant about maintaining adequate lateral and vertical separation from the lead airplane during the flight.”

The pilots of each airplane said they discussed how the flight would be flown, but in interviews with the NTSB, all three pilots described different expectations for the separation between each airplane.

The 182 pilot described the trail position as 20 to 30 ft aft of the lead airplane on a 45-degree bearing and lower than the lead airplane. The 185 pilot described the trail positon as one to two airplane lengths (about 26 to 52 ft) aft and left of the lead airplane and at the same altitude as the lead airplane. The chief pilot described the trail position as three airplane lengths (about 78 ft) aft and left of the lead airplane and slightly lower than the lead airplane. Even though none of the pilots stated that the trail airplane should be flown higher than the lead airplane, a video taken of the flight showed that the trail airplane pilot flew the trail airplane higher than the lead airplane until impact.

Everyone survived the crash. The skydivers jumped out, then sold GoPro footage of the incident for $100,000 to NBC News.

  • That video is INSANE. Glad the divers got paid.

  • Thomas Mercier

    So the major finding is that the FAA should regulate more? The pilots didn’t even have a cohesive plan on how to avoid an in air collision and it’s the governments fault? I’m all for practical government regulation when practical, but in this case I would hope self preservation might have warranted a little bit better self regulation.

    • Guidance and regulation are two different things. Having a SOP for flying formation for skydiving operations would give those interested in self-preservation some knowledge base that they obviously didn’t have here.


      These were commercial pilots carrying trusting paying passengers. In a perfect world no one would do stupid stuff like this. Unfortunately the FAA sometimes has to step in and protect people. The skydiving community has come a long way in cleaning up its abysmal aircraft safety record but this video shows it still has work to do.

      • Jeff Lewis

        FAA stepping in to protect people? Maybe in the late 1950’s. Has dope been made legal in your county, too?

        • You made a good point. You didn’t need the insult and we don’t do that here.