Killer Propeller

If you think we are talking about a new style of props, we wish we were. Instead, we’ll tell you the sad story of what can happen if you aren’t cautious around airplanes. WARNING: This story is not for the squeamish, but needs to be told to help others avoid the same deadly mistake.

It was the end of a nice flight. The pilot and his wife landed at their airport in a high-wing airplane. Like many high-performance singles, this high-wing lacked a strut from the fuselage to the wing. This made the plane a bit faster (and a bit more pleasing to the eye) but it came without the safety guard that the strut usually provides. Without the strut, there is no physical barrier to prevent you from exiting the aircraft and moving toward the spinning propeller!

In this case, the plane stopped and our pilot’s wife saw someone at the airport. While the engine was still running, she opened the door and stepped outside of the airplane. After clearing the right main landing gear, she walked straight forward into the spinning prop. Her husband saw her start, but she covered the four-foot distance before he could act — he watched in horror as the prop struck his wife and severed her arm.

The pilot shut down the engine almost as the prop struck his wife and rushed to her side to apply pressure to her wound and slow the bleeding. The airport operators called 911, but because of the rural location of the airport, it took minutes for an ambulance to arrive. By the time it did, the pilot’s wife had lost too much blood, and was dead.


IF A PROP IS RUNNING, STAY WELL CLEAR OF IT. This is so obvious to most pilots that they may neglect to mention it to passengers who often have no reason to know better. Non-pilots do not have the experience or familiarity with aircraft to understand the dangers they present and should therefore be warned, repeatedly. Pilots need to spread the word and ground dwellers need to be told to stand clear. ‘If the pilot can’t see your entire body, you are DEFINATELY TOO CLOSE.’ On the deck of aircraft carriers, hundreds of Navy personnel hustle back and forth at a time. Running propellers are guarded by a phalanx of Navy crewmen, who either wave their arms to keep you from walking anywhere near the props or take numerous other precautions whenever an aircraft engine is running while the aircraft is on deck. How many small airports do you know that operate like that?

ALWAYS TELL FRIENDS OR AIRPORT VISITORS that if they must walk around front of ANY running airplane, they must walk far enough away that they can look the pilot in the eyes or can see the whole plane — generally at least 15 feet away. Anywhere closer, and that person is at risk. Walking behind the plane is an even better idea, since USUALLY there aren’t any props back there. The key is simple: stay away from the propellers and do whatever is necessary to accomplish that!

IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN, implement “Airport Rules” with them. “Airport Rules” are simple: whenever you are walking on the airport where airplanes CAN BE, the kids HAVE TO hold your hand. If an airplane lurches forward, you can pull your children out of harms way. This also prevents your child from running after a balloon, an airport cat or dog, or any other number of eye-catching delights that might drag them too close to a propeller, while in pursuit.

NOBODY SHOULD END UP DEAD. Take a moment and think about the last time you walked around the airport. Have you ever been surprised by the start of an airplane engine too close for your comfort? Have you ever caught yourself close to a running airplane … too close? If you have, it’s time to make some changes. The life you save will be your own.