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Two recent plane crashes in the Chicago area are under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NTSB.

NBC Chicago reported that three people died after a medical flight crashed in Riverwoods, Illinois, near Chicago. The medical flight, which originated in West Palm Beach, Florida crashed shortly after the pilot reported "fuel problems". The plane crashed in John McGuire's back yard, who was watching a football game on TV and didn't realize what happened until emergency crews parked in his driveway.

"It sounded like 80 to 100 mph winds," McGuire said, "like debris hitting the house. And I thought it was so strange, I didn't hear any engine noise or anything like that."

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Five people were onboard the aircraft, owned by Trans North Aviation Limited, when it went down. The FAA and NTSB are still investigating the crash.

Another crash over the weekend killed four occupants returning to college after the holiday weekend.

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Every Cirrus aircraft is equipped with a CAPS — Cirrus Airframe Parachute System — as standard equipment to prevent fatal crashes like this one.

The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), standard equipment on every Cirrus aircraft, is indicative of the visionary commitment to general aviation safety. The parachute system is designed to protect occupants in the event of an emergency by lowering the aircraft to the ground after deployment. CAPS revolutionized general aviation safety by providing an additional measure of safety to occupants, similar in theory to the role of airbags in automobiles. No other certified general aviation aircraft manufacturer in the world provides this safety feature as standard equipment.

In the event of an in-flight emergency, pulling the red CAPS handle on the ceiling inside the cockpit deploys a solid-fuel rocket out a hatch that covers the concealed compartment where the parachute is stored. As the rocket carries the parachute rearward from the back of the airplane, the embedded CAPS airplane harness straps release from the fuselage. Within seconds, the 55' diameter canopy will unfurl, controlling the aircraft rate of descent. The final landing is absorbed by the specialized landing gear, a roll cage and Cirrus Energy Absorbing Technology (CEAT) seats.

Source: Cirrus

A Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association web site reports 31 CAPS pulls since 2002 with 27 saves and 51 survivors. This raises the questions: Was the CAPS device deployed in a timely manner? If not, why not? If so, did the CAPS fail to deploy properly?

The FAA and NTSB are still investigating.

[More on Medical Flight Safety]

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(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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