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Posted on Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

Skydive Tecumseh says its pilot is not under investigation after close call with Spirit jet

By Amy Biolchini

A Tecumseh-based skydiving company says its pilot is not under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration after a close call with Texas-bound Spirit Airlines Flight 313 Sunday evening at about 14,000 feet.

“(The FAA) called us on Monday to ask my pilot exactly when it happened,” said Skydive Tecumseh owner Franz Gerschwiler. “They made it clear to the pilot that he was not under investigation.”


Two jumpers with Skydive Tecumseh land in a field near the Meyers-Diver's Airport in Tecumseh in June.

Courtesy of Katie Cunningham

The FAA is looking in to reports that the Spirit Airlines jet responded to an on-board traffic alert about 20 miles southwest of Ann Arbor in the Tecumseh area after taking off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

"We look at everything involved in flight, which includes the planes, the pilots, the people involved, the equipment involved. Was there adequate training? Were the rules of flight followed? Were the planes built and maintained in accordance with the Federal Aviation Regulations?" FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said in an emailed statement.

Gerschwiler said his pilot had reached the end of its ascent at 14,000 feet in a Quest Kodiak plane with a group of skydivers on board about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. The plane is new to the company's fleet and can hold up to 14 jumpers.

Gerschwiler said the pilot was in contact with air traffic control and had a visual on the Spirit jet, an Airbus 319 jetliner that departed Detroit Metropolitan Airport with 126 passengers and a crew of five bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

“(My pilot) was aware that the aircraft was there,” Gerschwiler said. “It didn’t get to the point where he was concerned and that he couldn’t maneuver and get out of the way.”

Air traffic controllers had notified the Spirit pilot about 8:22 p.m. that the Skydive Tecumseh plane was climbing just south of the jet, according to the FAA.

About a minute later, the Spirit jet’s automated Terminal Collision Avoidance System was activated and the pilot was forced to begin a swift 1,600-foot descent from an altitude of 14,400 feet to 12,800 feet, according to the FAA.

Passengers screamed as their jet quickly dropped elevation, causing luggage bins to spill open and flight attendants to bump their heads, the Associated Press reported.

“(The spirit jet) was coming up towards us, and then it dove because we were already up there,” Gerschwiler said.

Gerschwiler said his pilot did not need to take sudden evasive action to avoid the jet, but slightly corrected his course and proceeded with the sky dive Sunday evening once the Spirit plane was out of the airspace.

“Some kind of communication issue occurred,” Gerschwiler said, noting that his pilot followed all the protocols Sunday evening. “There’s always communication between (air traffic control) to let them know there’s parachuting.”

At the closest point, the two planes were 1.6 miles apart horizontally and about 400 feet vertically, according to the FAA.

The Spirit jet continued to Dallas-Fort Worth without further incident.

Skydive Tecumseh typically does about 30 skydive flights on Saturdays and Sundays in the airspace around the Meyers-Diver’s Airport at 9305 Tecumseh-Clinton Highway in Tecumseh, Gerschwiler said.

Each flight typically carries about 12 passengers and lasts from 20 to 25 minutes, Gerschwiler said. The company has two planes staffed by two pilots who take turns manning flights, Gerschwiler said.

Gerschwiler said one of his planes was handling all the flights Sunday. He did not know how many pilots were working Sunday or how many passengers were on the Kodiak plane at the time of the incident with the Spirit jet.

“Once in a while the air traffic control has to send jets through our airspace,” Gerschwiler said, noting that the company has never had a close call with a jet before.

Skydive Tecumseh is a 50-year-old company, of which Gerschwiler has been owner for the past six years.

View Meyers-Diver's Airport, Tecumseh, MI in a larger map

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

We're missing some important details still. 1.6 miles horizontally and 400 feet vertically? What's the mininum acceptable clearance? The Spirit pilot simply responded to an alarm. I work in electronics and I know that these automated systems don't always respond as expected for a variety of reasons. Yes they go through validations and preventive maintenance, but intermittent problems can take years to pin down and eliminate. Could it be that the system on the airliner was too sensitive? Could it be that the airliner was too low? Don't they climb to 30000 or more feet? We're talking about 31-35 miles from Metro to Tecumseh, depending on which runway was used and which Tecumseh airport was used. Where I'm unclear is how long it takes to get there. What rate of altitude increase is considered normal? That's why the investigation though. If all the requirements were met, then perhaps we've identified an opportunity to improve air safety.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

Glad to see some balance to this story, even if it doesn't get picked up by any of the bigger news sources. Blame here rests with the FAA for even suggesting that Skydive Tecumseh had done anything wrong. Collision avoidance is the responsibility of all pilots, regardless of whether they are flying a 2 seater or a commercial jet with 300 on board. It is telling that the Skydive Tecumseh pilot was in contact with Detroit approach and had the traffic in sight, whereas the Spirit pilot noticed the traffic on his collision avoidance system. One pilot was looking out the window like he was supposed to the other had his head buried in the cockpit. Hopefully the FAA disciplines the people at fault here which looks like the pilots of the Spirit airlines plane.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

Why would the TCAS force the jet to drop altitude when the approaching plane was already 400 feet below the jet? This seems that it could cause the aircraft to be in direct collision area of the other aircraft. Seems to me that when the TCAS identifies an object it should avoid contact by moving in the opposite direction of suspect object.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

Nobody's under investigation, folks. The FAA calls up and chats with Skydive Tecumseh pretty much daily. This time they wanted to make sure there was enough of that green bean casserole with the french fried onion rings for the annual company picnic next weekend.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

Not true.. nickcarraweigh. Someone is under investigation .. The bean casserole cook. Last year they were short and they still have not found out why. Now, on a different note. Why would the TCAS force the jet to drop altitude when the approaching plane was already 400 feet below the jet? This seems that it could cause the aircraft to be in direct collision area of the other aircraft. Seems to me that when the TCAS identifies an object it should avoid contact by moving in the opposite direction of suspect object.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

How many seconds at the speed of both aircraft would it have taken to be a major disaster? Skydive seems to be rationalizing what happened instead of trying to prevent it from happening again. Too late once it happens needlessly. You will still be dead and you can't rationalize then


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

1.6 miles apart at what speed? Timewise it was a matter of seconds.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

The worse thing here is that I did not receive this article until 6:31 Wednesday morning and all of these post are from Tuesday afternoon. I am a day late and the news has passed me by. Better check to see if I am among the living... Yep, my name was not in the Obits, still here.. Or maybe I am gone but won't know till I get the news tomorrow.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

Spirit should have been proactive and asked ATC for a vector to avoid the jump plane, instead of waiting for TCAS to do it for them. Pilots rely on those things way too much, instead of using the old MK I eyeballs. BUT, this is a again a great example of why it is best to have your seatbelt on at all times.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:53 a.m.

The only issue I have with this is in regards to the distance between the planes. They were 1.6 miles apart horizontally. I think the next line of TCAS needs to be able to gather more information and make a better determination about the real need for activation. Under the current system, the decent was required and worked. An upgrade system needs to be able to make better use of all available information to determine if such actions are needed. The other issue is exactly how much communication was going on. Was the skydive plane in communications with ATCs (likely out of Metro, but possibly out of Toledo's airport as well). Which ATCs were the Spirit plane in contact with. Should a system be in place to allow the planes to communicate with each other? I think situation is an incident that could be learned from and new systems developed from which could lead to safer flying for all.

Jay Thomas

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:40 a.m.

I enjoyed skydiving there.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:59 a.m.

I think I saw a groupon or living social for them today. Seriously.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 10:29 p.m.

Yes. Part of the job. No, I'm not a pilot.

Hugh Giariola

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 8:48 p.m.

"(The FAA) called us on Monday to ask my pilot exactly when it happened," said Skydive Tecumseh owner Franz Gerschwiler. "They made it clear to the pilot that he was not under investigation." OK, the FAA is still investigating the INCIDENT. Since Skydive Tecumseh was part of that incident, it would be safe to say that they're included in some type of investigation. It's like a cop saying "it's ok, this is off the record..."


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.

Thanks Basic Bob. Most of these posters would do well to be reminded that Richard is a complete, utter stranger to all of us in this situation. We simply don't know Dick.

Basic Bob

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:06 p.m.

It is safe to say there are other aspects of the incident besides the two guys with joysticks in their hands. Did air traffic controllers give out the same air space simultaneously to two different aircraft? Did the Spirit plane take off late or deviate from its assigned pattern?


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 8:32 p.m.

Okeedokee, I'm sincerely glad that no actual emergency took place. It's very unfortunate that the airline passengers experienced what they had reason to believe was justified fear (panic, terror, etc.). But this incident reminds me of one of Louis C K's comedy routines: "Everything is so amazing and nobody is happy" - in which he described the miracle of having hundreds of people flying comfortably 7 miles high at 600 mph. "It is true. We take for granted the miracles we get from technology, and complain when the miracles aren't perfect. " – Louis CK

Tom Teague

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

I don't always agree with you Tru2blu76. But when I do, I put it in writing. Thank you for sharing LCK's perspective.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

Skydive Tecumseh flies off the same airfield in pretty much the same pattern every day, multiple times a day. having their plane in this airspace is NOTHING NEW, air traffic controllers know where they fly as they do it up to 30 times a day... duh.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 8:29 p.m.

I agree. Maybe DTW should move the flight patterns of their aircraft out of the Tecumseh airfield air space. Just a thought.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:25 p.m.

The T in TCAS stands for Traffic not Terminal.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

Not under investigation YET. We'll see once the FAA gathers more information. If nothing else here, maybe there needs to be better communication between Skydive Tecumseh and the traffic controllers so the former knows how much distance to keep between them and approaching flights. Obviously, you want to avoid activating the collision avoidance system on the planes so people don't get injured and scared to death.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:57 p.m.

The FAA will clearly investigate all aspects of this case. They need as much information as possible to help avoid such occurrences in future. Our conversations to date have shown that the Skydive Tecumseh Pilot did everything by the book. We already have excellent communication with ATC, this is not where the breakdown occurred. Clearly no-one desires incidents such as this.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

I'm not a pilot, but I would assume it is easier for a small plane to make a flight adjustment than a large plane. The owner claims he is well aware hat larger planes sometimes fly over "his" airspace. If that's the case, do people have to die before common sense kicks on? Fix the problem. If you keep saying "it's not our fault" you're asking for a PR problem. Also, I'd suggest the owner inform himself. This happened on Sunday. You should have had all of the facts ASAP as owner. Unless you don't care, in which case, you really "don't care" about the PR problem.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 3:59 a.m.

To be clear, SDT, I was being sarcastic in my post. Of course the communication is the issue here. The point is: who cares how many people were on the plane? I'm sure you were busy checking on the more important facts here.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:43 a.m.

Seriously quite unbelievable. Because an exact number of people on the aircraft wasn't made up for the article ,you think communication - which caused this problem- was not to be focused on. You see for me it doesn't matter if it was 2 or 20 people put at risk. A life is a life is a life - every one is precious. So am I focusing on figuring out what went wrong rather than telling a newspaper how many could have died to make the article more interesting for bottom feeders? You are damned straight I am!


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

I'll be the first to say I don't know much about flying, and flight patterns, but I can only assume Trying to Be Objective is right about it being the skydiving place's owner's fault here. If I were the owner of the skydiving place, my priority would not be the petty airspace communication issue, it would be to check my records to see whether 15 people or 16 people were in danger, so possibly next time he could find a smaller plane or take a smaller load to endanger less people. Why are people (namely the owner) wrapped up in the miscommunication issue here and forgetting to focus on preparing for this interview with what is really relevant: how many people were on this plane? I can only hope there will be a follow up story with how many people were aboard, but alas, everyone is so focused on communication, I doubt that will be the case. I'll wonder along with you, Trying to Be Objective, and lets keep our fingers crossed that next time, the skydiving company's owner has reviewed and prepared a head count for the news article.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 10:21 p.m.

He said he was well aware of the facts. But the reality is, he's not. If he's missing the simple ones, how sure is he about the important ones? Are you the pilot, or an employee of the company?


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:09 p.m. would the owner knowing how many pilots were working Sunday, or how many passengers were aboard the Skydive plane, make any difference in how the situation was handled?


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 7:17 p.m.

From the article "He (the owner) did not know how many pilots were working Sunday or how many passengers were on the Kodiak plane at the time of the incident of the Spirit jet." These seem like extremely simple facts to "know", and if you don't know these, as an owner, what else are you missing? Since you are "well aware of the facts that are available", are these facts not available? Your pilot did not need to take evasive action, but carried on as usual? Did he happen to notice that the Spirit jet had some "difficulty?" The larger plane had a problem, but "no big deal" because nobody died or anything. It's not "your problem" right?


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

From the owner. I am well aware of the facts that are available and required from our end and have freely provided that information to all concerned. The missing information is how the spirit flight did not receive the required communication to avoid the incident, until such time as the FAA conclude investigations will will not know who or what is to blame. Our aircraft was in communication with ATC at all times as required. With regard to the comment that large aircraft do sometimes use the same airspace as us. On those occasions we, as always, communicate with ATC and they let us know what we can and cannot do.

IT Guy

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 5:17 p.m.

I still would blame the pilot. I have been watching that plane fly over my head for 17 years now. I am surprised they haven't nosedived that plane into the ground. Would be nice if Skydive Tecumseh had consideration for the neighboring houses, but no, 9 AM every weekend, the Stuka dive bomber comes spiraling out of the sky, buzzing the rooftops of neighborhood homes.

tom devero

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

Skydive has been there for 50 years. You 17 years? You lose!

Slim Jim

Thu, Jul 4, 2013 : 2:12 a.m.

My Dad has been a private pilot my entire life (54 years) and had an airplane there the entire time. The type of plane used by the skydiving operation has changed over the years. They use bigger planes to hold more passengers, and the current planes climb and descend faster. I have personally witnessed how close they come over the rooftops of the neighbor's houses, and you although I'm an aviation enthusiast I would never live in the path of the runway. In other words, IT Guy is right.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

I, for one, see your point and have had a similar dilemma with a neighboring business, IT Guy. I recently moved next door to a McDonalds. I happen to be a healthy eater, and was immediately disturbed by all the patrons of the drive thru eating their Big Macs and McFlurries in clear view of my window. I kid you not, I had NO idea this place was there when I moved in, so that brings up my first point. Who ever heard of warning me of a fast food place's presence with a set of lit up golden arches? You must feel the same way. I imagine there were no warning signs when you moved in of an airport in the vicinity. Anyway, after numerous meetings and written requests, this McDonalds actually has the nerve to continue conducting business, as normal, in plain sight of my house! What these people responding to you fail to realize is this: businesses need to be more active in surveying their neighbors every so often to see if some consideration should be made to possible changes to the day to day operations (if for no other reason, because it annoys us). I hope the owner of the skydiving place reads your comment and can be more considerate. Oh, and about the part where the planes buzz your rooftops, I understand how that feels. The people at that McDonalds recognized that their business upset me, and began serving their customers behind my shed. True story.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 10:08 p.m.

LOL ROTF PMP over the fact that someone bought property near a popular skydiving business and airport, and now they're calling the business inconsiderate!


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:13 p.m.

Love when people move next to an airport and expect the airports schedule to revolve around them.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:03 p.m.

If that is the way you put it, I think you have no idea what a Stuka is, or how it was used. You are also exaggerating about 'buzzing the rooftops'. THINK before posting, is always a good idea.....

Tom Teague

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 8:37 p.m.

Maybe the Tecumseh folks are corkscrewing in to ensure they don't fly through the skydivers who are wafting peacefully toward the ground. Flying through their descent path, which can widen due to winds and other conditions, is bad for the plane, the skydivers, and the company's revenue.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

Let's see 50 - 17 = 33. 33 is the number of years Skydive Tecumseh has been there, prior to you.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

well maybe buy a house that is not next to an airport next time.. geesh.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

I don't think a panic dive is how things are supposed to work.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:35 p.m.

Evasive dives are the end result of a properly functioning TCAS system, however, never having TCAS come into play is the end result of properly managed air traffic system.

Basic Bob

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 9:09 p.m.

That's EXACTLY how the TCAS is supposed to work!


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

Well that should quiet all the people in the other article thread saying the skydive pilot did something wrong and is to blame here. Sounds like everyone was in communication and everything worked the way it was supposed to.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

So, the fact that crew on the Spirit jet were injured was the "way it was supposed to work out?" Are you the pilot?