Home Forums Safety Paragliding Incident Report – May 19th 2024

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  • #20289

    On Sunday, May 19th, 2024 at about 3:30PM, a P3 paraglider pilot launched from Regionals with a few other pilots present. Witness #1 reported strong, short-period thermal cycles on launch, with an East/South East wind direction, with a base wind of about 7-9mph, gusting up to 13mph.

    Pilot was observed being unable to find a thermal to climb and was seen sinking significantly. He was last seen by witness #1 heading in the direction of the 750’ launch. Shortly thereafter, witness #2 was heard shouting; “It’s a hawk, no, it’s a paraglider!” likely referring to the pilot spiraling down on the West slope of the 750’ launch. Witness #1 identified the pilot and witness #2 decided to drive the buggy down to the site of the crashed pilot.

    The injured pilot was also observed from the LZ flying just West of Cloud Peak above the 1,000’ launch, when he suffered a collapse with about 1/3rd of the right side of his wing folding in. Witness #3 observed the wing spiraling head down with at least two complete spiral rotations, and then the pilot disappeared from the LZ view behind the ridge. The pilot did not deploy his reserve and collided with the side of the hill.

    Witness #4 located at the LZ called 911 and then handed the phone to witness #3, who then directed rescue crews to the LZ. Some pilots at the LZ rushed to the injured pilot’s aid by hiking to his location.

    A white “X” was laid out in the middle of the LZ to signal to all pilots to come land, so that the rescue helicopter would have a clear path to the injured pilot. As the airborne pilots came in to land, they reported that they did not see the injured pilot move. Other witnesses located on the Regionals launch had a view of the downed pilot and also reported no movement. Several city police officers arrived at the LZ, they were given “What3Words” coordinates to the injured pilot and headed his way.

    A spotter helicopter was used to locate the precise location of the downed pilot and was heard on loudspeaker giving instructions to the pilot, asking him to move his arms. He was non-responsive.

    A second helicopter hovered off the East side of the LZ and when the LZ was clear, it temporarily landed in order to load a first responder on the skid of the helicopter. By 4:12PM the search and rescue helicopter was lowering the first responder to the injured pilot. By 4:35PM the injured pilot was inside the helicopter and transported to the LZ.

    The injured pilot was observed to be conscious and moving, but disoriented. Witnesses report seeing lacerations to his arms, neck and face. He was loaded onto a gurney, transferred to an ambulance and driven to Loma Linda University Medical Center.

    One of the pilots who later assisted in removing the gear from the side of the hill after the crash commented that the reserve was not deployed.

    Pilot’s Instructor said that the wing the pilot was flying at the time of the accident was new to him, that it was a higher rated wing (higher B) than his previous wing (lower B), and that the pilot was lightly loaded on the new wing.

    What we can learn from this accident:

    – Lightly loaded wings, especially higher performance gliders, are more susceptible to collapses, especially in turbulent or windy conditions. Higher performance wings (even when loaded appropriately) can behave more aggressively and can take longer to recover from collapses, and can be overly sensitive to mis-timed inputs from the pilot, whether that is using brakes, or weight shift.

    – It is strongly advised that pilots fly the appropriate gear for their skill level and follow manufacturer weight range recommendations.

    – As we progress from spring to summer and the sun sets at a later time, early afternoon conditions at our inland mountain desert site can be very strong and turbulent. It is not recommended for less experienced pilots to fly in such conditions, but rather launch later in the day to avoid unnecessary dangers. The skills and experience necessary to navigate these conditions should be worked up to gradually.

    – It is important to recognize when conditions could be dangerous. Our site is most ideal for flying with a South/South West wind direction. An East wind component can change the site drastically by creating rotor in areas that are safer to fly in a S/SW wind direction. If the wind direction had an East component as was reported by witness #1, the pilot may have been on the lee side of the hill at the time of the accident, possibly contributing to the collapse and subsequent crash.

    – Flying near the ground when conditions are strong is dangerous. Where there is big lift, there is also big sink. If you don’t give yourself enough altitude to escape big sink, you could end up crashing on the side of the hill. Being close to the ground in strong conditions also means that you are closer to flying into a dust devil. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

    – The reserve parachute may have been an option. “Two complete rotations” suggests there may have been enough altitude, but the handle was never un-stowed. High speed spiral impacts are among the most dangerous, and if developed past nose-down, become less likely to be helped by a reserve. Early prevention and deployment is recommended with out-of-control rotations, especially when low.

    Jonathan Dietch
    General Member

    When in doubt – Whip it out!
    I’ve lost at least 4 friends and acquaintances who clearly had time to deploy but didn’t. 2 HG and 2 PG.
    The failure to immediately take protective action costs lives in many endeavors. The best way to counter the human tendency to enter a dissociative state of freezing and mentally zoning out is through physical training and repetition of the actions needed to save yourself. This means reserve deployment clinics that utilize all of the steps of an actual deployment while in a simulator and under physical/metal stress. Even without a clinic we can still go through some of the physical and mental steps while simply flying. This way when our lives are threatened our bodies are more likely to do the steps needed for self-preservation even if we are mentally and/or emotionally not in the right frame.

    A big thanks goes out to Jana and all the witnesses who provided reports for this great write-up.

    Jonathan Dietch
    General Member

    A Plug for XCFind.paraglide.us

    Even if we go down under reserve can we extract ourselves and return to civilization? Will others know our location and maybe our status? It is possible come down safely and be unable to get to safety. I’ve known many pilots who landed safely in the brush only to discover that it was either unpassable or that it took like 6 hours to move one mile and reach a road. If you own a GPS tracker and have a live tracking then please spend another $20 annually to get onto XCFind as I linked above. This makes it easy for others to know you may or may not be in need to assistance or rescue.
    Never rely solely on cellphone apps that reply on cell towers for data and/or SMS transmission. We lost a club member to a rattlesnake bite due to lack of cellular connection. Had he been equipped with a GPS tracker the outcome would have likely been more favorable. I sometimes fly past the spot where he was found five days later. I myself have been assisted by Jeff and Gavin when I hit my ‘helping hand’ button after a bad XC landing. This came through via XCFind. I’m sure there have been many others.

    Please do the right things – in addition to reserve toss practice/prep have a GPS tracker on the XCFind system. Keep extra lithium batteries handy. Know how to use and read the web interface to monitor activity.

    Albert Sharp
    General Member

    Thank you for the report and to the witnesses who gave their feedback.

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