This is in response to a friend asking me about my recent crash on a paraglider. He talked about his reason for walking away from paragliding as well as asked the questions you’ll see at the bottom.
For those of you who fly, I’m a 60 hour pilot under a Gin Carrera Plus, all up 85 kg (75–95 wing).
Psyched on flying and ground handling. I stopped keeping track of ground handling hours at the 35 flying hour mark, but at that point it was 1:1 GH to flying.
Was about 300’ up and too far back into a ridge, approx 6 miles from launch at Palomar. I hit rotor, the wing collapsed. I then accidentally stalled it and mismanaged the stall (not letting it fly, being too quick on the brakes) all the way to the ground. Landed around 6 m/s about 2’ up a steep dirt slope next to a rural highway (S6).
Not terrible, but definitely lucky to walk away with just a bloody knee and a 2 week headache. Both seem cleared up now.
Wing fell into one of the lanes. No traffic, so I balled it up, hobbled across the road and packed up, assuring myself that I was a lucky bugger for about 20 minutes straight.
Walked a mile and a half until I caught a ride back to the LZ.
I probably should have thrown the reserve, although in retrospect I would have drifted into trees and had a far more costly retrieve. As it was, no gear broke, snapped, or tore and I flew again the next day. I’ve talked to more experienced pilots and they agree to a (wo)man that I should have thrown my reserve no matter the potential equipment cost.
‑Let it fly. Thought I’d gotten this at the 1 SIV I did (at about the 20 hour mark). It wasn’t deep enough learning to be reflexive, which is totally my fault.
-I need to practice wing control on the ground and in the air (to include the “300 stalls” rule) way more before I get more serious about XC. The XC is super sexy but without the tools to manage the situations that inevitably arise I’m an idiot to chase it.
-More SIV is essential. Probably also a good idea to do an XC course.
-Fear injuries are real. I’m still nervous flying, 4 weeks, 12 flights and 5 flying hours later. I’m not sure how to best handle it. I’ve had some great flights and some ones that were more or less unpleasant. I think lots more ground handling plus flying in really clean & easy air for a while, plus just flat-out more flying will cure it. Thinking of it in the same manner as a physical injury, all that makes sense.
I do feel like a weakling when I get scared at takeoff or in flight. It’s a new one for me, I never thought anything would really scare me or freak me out that way. I also feel an obligation to go back and figure that out, to master it, and to decide on my own terms when I want to stop flying.
Questions & Answers
1. Is the risk manageable?
Yes, but safe progression will take full focus, maximum effort, and an acceptance that the consequences are higher than reasonable. The question I ask is “Is the risk acceptable?” My answer is “Yes”, but I know it’s not the reasonable answer.
2. Do you have the time to dedicate?
Yes. I’ve got 10 hours/week to manage all my flying time (prep, set up, flight, pack up, and travel time.) That gives me 3–5 flights totalling 2–4 hours/week of flying time depending on conditions. That seems acceptable to me. I’ll probably expand that to 15 hours/week in the summer, but for now 10 hours is what Lee & I have agreed on.
3. Do I see mega adventures in the sport or something done for relaxation? Both answers have limits and guardrails to them.
Mega-adventures, learning how to manage fear and excitement, seeing parts of the world in a way impossible via any other method, and the privilege of flying a line no one has flown before. I don’t think I can do a sport for relaxation. Release and restoration of my natural connection to earth energy certainly, but I just can’t connect relaxation with the effort to improve.
My goal is to vol-biv the Spine of Baja. No one has done it as far as I can tell. I’d really like to be the first, but I can see that pushing to be the first before I’m ready to safely fly it jacks the odds of disaster way beyond what is reasonable, even for me. Just flying it will be enough. I’d also like to compete in the X‑Alps, but I’m more psyched on SoB to start.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on flying, the quest for excellence, and laying out important questions. Psyched to see you soon.
4 thoughts on “Fear and Recovery”
Fear and recovery is a lot like fear and loathing. Every bit of the fear reminds you of what you did wrong and that brings on the loathing. Each person is different and I respect someone who walks away for the right reasons (theirs) as much as I heckle those who keep flying for the wrong reasons (someone else’s). Having had 3 serious episodes myself I’ve always found that it’s best to do two things. First get back on the horse that threw you. You don’t have to go XC the next day but get back in the air before the fear scabs over and forms a psychic scar. Second realize that you’ve lost your edge and it takes time to get it back. Hell you may never get it back. If you don’t, don’t berate yourself. It’s a hobby. There is no gold in paragliding. We do it because we love it. Every aspect of this sport has love and hate sewn all through its fabric.
Glad this one worked out OK! Having also had an ‘intermediate-syndrome’ incident that shook me up (and broke me up worse than yours) I notice a lesson-learned that you didn’t include. And I think it’s more important than the ones listed: always be aware of your commitment level — when you commit to a less than ideal situation (i.e., too far back in rotor with only 300 feet between you and the ground) it should be a conscious decision with full appreciation of the potential repurcussions. I bet if you’d have been 300 ft higher and a bit more out front this wouldn’t have happened in the first place and if it did you’d have had time to recover or throw. Many hundred hours after my incident, I still hear the little voice when I think about going a bit deeper to look for the lee-side thermal — I sometimes do it anyway but it’s a fully conscious decision.
Sorry to hear about your accident and am very glad that you walked away from it. The details you provided certainly raise some grave concerns. You say that you were a 60 hour pilot at the time of your accident. A 60 hour pilot should not be flying a Gin Carerra Plus. That is the highest of the high Bs and is well known to be a more of a C wing than a B wing. Even Gin admits that. So you do not have the experience to be on that wing in cross country conditions. I feel certain that with a low B glider or other safer glider you likely would not have stalled the wing and caused your accident. You really need to consider stepping back to a lower rated glider until you have much more experience. I truly hope that you never consciously thought about whether you should have thrown your chute based on any expense you might have incurred by tossing versus not tossing. Your life was on the line. You are very, very lucky to be alive or at least not seriously and permanently injured. You were low to the ground on an out of control glider. That’s when you throw without hesitation. Your write up about your accident is one of the scariest I have ever read. I sure hope that you have taken advise from many experienced pilots who surely must have talked to you about your decision making so that you can have the long and safe flying career that you surely want.
Bo, thanks for the feedback and for taking the time to write it up! I haven’t heard from any of our local experienced pilots that I should step down a wing. They’ve seen me flying and kiting it and seem to be comfortable with me on it. That’s not to say it’s the absolute safest wing for me, and I totally understand that you are strongly recommending a lower wing. I think the reason I stalled it and kept it stalled was my own incorrect reactions; I kept trying to pump it out when I should have let it fly.
Every pilot I’ve talked to has told me I should have thrown my reserve, so that lesson hit home. I hit at about 6 m/s, so it wasn’t a full free-fall. I’ve had some experience parachuting in the military and landed a bunch of static line chutes that were falling about as fast.
The big takeaway for me was to work way more of the fundamentals before venturing out on XC flights, no matter how sexy XC appears.
Thanks again for your write up and passing on your wisdom, definitely food for thought!