Optional safety equipment installed on an ultralight trike is being credited with saving the life of a veteran pilot who crashed into a South Surrey blueberry field Monday.
“You invest in them and you hope you never use them,” Victor Okunev, co-owner of Open Skies Aviation, said of the ballistic parachute he believes saved his partner, Mikhail Gavrikov.
“In case something goes wrong with the aircraft and it becomes non-flyable, you can deploy that parachute and basically it takes the whole setup… down.
“The pilot had deployed it and it worked, it saved his life, so everything kind of went according to the safety procedures.”
Okunev said the White Rock man was doing a test flight for a friend when the crash occurred.
Police were called to the scene – near King George Boulevard and Colebrook Road – around 8:15 a.m., and Gavrikov was taken to hospital with a leg injury.
The pilot’s femur was broken in the crash, said Surrey RCMP Staff Sgt. Warren Tyson, noting initial investigation indicates a mechanical failure occurred during the flight.
According to the police report, witnesses reported hearing a sound come from the open-cockpit craft just prior to the crash.
“It looks like a cable broke on one of the wings,” Tyson said.
The ultralight was approximately 300 feet up at the time. Because of the parachute, it was a “soft crash,” Tyson said.
Okunev said the malfunction was likely due to metal fatigue.
He described Gavrikov as a “very experienced pilot.” He is a Transport Canada-certified flight instructor who imported his own trike from Moscow nearly a decade ago, soon after taking it to the skies over South Surrey.
It was Gavrikov who introduced Okunev to the sport. They opened the flight school in 2006.
“He took me up in the air and I just knew I had a new challenge to learn. It was just love.”
Okunev said that while the sport is a fun, safe and affordable one that is growing in popularity, it is frustrating that it gets the most attention when something goes wrong – something he said does not happen all that often.
He does not believe Monday’s crash will sway Gavrikov’s passion for flying the ultralights.
“I think Mikhail is going to be grounded for a while,” he said.
“He’s definitely in good spirits.”