The Runaway Saratoga, and the Shredded Seminole…
At Parafield Airport, Australia
August 26th, 2001
On the night of August 26th, 2001, at Parafield Airport, north of Adelaide, Australia, Doctor Luis Isabel, a 50-year-old surgeon from Wattle Park, was preparing for a flight home when he discovered that the battery to his single-engine Piper Saratoga was dead.
Satisfied the handbrake was on, he neglected to use chocks or locate another pilot to take the controls. The doctor climbed on to a wing to hand start the propeller but felt a ‘huge surge of power’ as the engine started.
The plane shot away from him, and taxied forward. After being knocked down by the Saratoga, Isabel was hanging on to the tail of his aircraft trying to stop it going any further, and watching in horror it shreds through several surrounding aircraft - hoping that, any minute, the engine will stop. But, unmanned for over 150 yards – the Saratoga sliced through four Piper Warriors, operated by the University of South Australia Flying School, before turning sharply right and plowing into the school's Piper Seminole, registered as VH-KBZ, virtually destroying it, and spewing out hundreds of liters of avgas.
Amazingly, no one was hurt in the incident. The Saratoga's wild ride ended, just 25 yards from the airport's fuel tanks.
Making the Best...
“It was pretty horrendous,” said Professor John Thomas, head of aviation at the university, “It was hard to know where to start. Just totally devastating.”
The university lost four of its six aircraft, and was forced to hire substitutes so normal operations could continue during the mid-semester break, when its 75 students concentrate on building their flying hours.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority conducted an investigation of the incident, and filed criminal charges against Isabel, but the Adelaide magistrate threw out the charges, citing that “it could not be proven it was not a mistake.” It was surmised that the brake cylinder to Isabel's Saratoga may have had a cut or slit in the tubing, causing the pressure in the brake line to leak.
The University of South Australia sued Dr. Isabel for $262,694.39, for the loss of the four Warriors, and for other costs associated with loss or their use.
Birth of a Myth...
Photos of the shredded Seminole quickly found their way onto the Internet, and formed a mythology of their own. The prevailing legend grew legs when picture of the plane appeared on eBay, with the alleged backstory being that of a guy with an angry ex-wife. Apparently he wouldn’t let her get breast implants and instead bought the plane. She got mad and went out to the airport with a chainsaw, resulting in the photos.
In the fourth season of “Mythbusters”, the myth was debunked, but the true story of VH-KBZ's photos were confirmed via realistic testing using a portion of wrecked aircraft, and engine mounted on a guidance rail.