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Polaris Flying Boat Seen Doing Loops Before Fatal Crash

Smith and Donohue
Lucas Smith and Cara Lee Donohue

This Polaris Polar Star inflatable flying boat, a weight-shift-control trike attached to an inflatable dingy, was photographed by people on a tour boat shortly before it crashed into the water about 11 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, on July 20, 2011. Witnesses say it had completed a loop and was attempting another loop when at the top of the loop, at about 1,000 feet, it flipped over, the wings folded, and it plummeted into shallow water.

Within minutes boats approached the site to attempt a rescue, but the occupants’ injuries were too severe. The pilot, Lucas Smith, and his passenger, Cara Lee Donohue, were killed in the crash. Smith was well known in the local boating community. He and Donohue operated Osprey Boat Charters, headquartered in Sullivan’s Island. The PolarisPolar Star was a familiar sight in the area, Smith had owned it for several years, and he was said to be a skilled pilot. The Charleston-based The Post and Courier reported that his father, Ellison Smith, said, “Lucas was always a risk-taker. He liked to be on the edge of stuff.”

As the news of the crash first emerged, some local citizens who didn’t witness the event doubted that the pilot would take such a deliberate risk with a passenger, and others may have wondered if the aircraft was even capable of looping. Witnesses called it an aero-loop, and newspapers labeled it a “flip.”

The official NTSB preliminary report merely quotes the witnesses, but some local individuals allege that Smith had done loops before and was known to do loops in the aircraft. Trikes and hang gliders are capable of doing loops; however, such maneuvers are far outside of the allowable flight envelope. The only possible recovery for a failed loop in a trike or hang glider is a parachute or perhaps two of them.

Polaris Motors of Italy claims it has produced and sold over 1,000 inflatable flying boats since 1987. There are 24 Polaris inflatable flying boats listed in the FAA aircraft registry, but accident aircraft isn’t one of  them. The aircraft was never registered, and the pilot wasn’t certificated. The Polaris flying boat can’t qualify as an ultralight, though it could have been operated as an exempted ultralight trainer prior to 2007.

Pilots and nonpilots alike may wonder why some pilots occasionally deliberately fly well beyond the acceptable limits. I’ve come to believe that it’s possible for some folks to have too much fun in the air. The extreme thrills associated with flying an open-cockpit, very maneuverable, and easy-to-fly aircraft with plenty of climb rate can be intoxicating. If there is any lesson we can learn from this unnecessary double fatality, it might be that we must beware of having too much fun. – Editor

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