Fear and Recovery

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.

Lessons learned:
‑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”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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