Injuries and deaths from propeller strikes are not widespread, but unfortunately they do happen. Most recently, a long-time employee of a skydiving company in Ohio died as a result of severe head injuries she suffered when she walked into a spinning propeller. In that particular case, the woman was accustomed to being around airplanes. Many times, however, the injured party does not have that level of experience.
People seem quick to blame the injured or deceased person. After all, how could a person walk into a spinning propeller? But in reality, it is not that simple. Even in the day time, the propeller spins so fast that you can’t really see it. And, the noise generated by the engine is disorienting, even for the initiated. So a responsible pilot would take these issues into consideration and shut the plane down before allowing anyone near it.
Nonetheless, many pilots load and unload passengers from planes without cutting the engine. This is a huge safety issue, but the FAA and most airplane manufacturers seem content to ignore the risk. Pilots that do this call it “hot seating.” But anyone who actually thought about it would simply call it stupid. Allowing people to walk around an airplane with a running engine is courting disaster.
Perhaps one day the FAA will wake up and take definitive action. Indeed, one short rule could put a stop to all of these kinds of incidents. Until then, though, expect to read the occasional, but all too common, story about someone being killed or severely maimed by a spinning airplane propeller.