Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Dumbest Thing I've Ever Done

Submitted by Dayshift

When it comes to paragliding, I've always considered myself a chickenhawk. Even before my first solo, I vowed never to be the subject of a high wind accident story. No aerobatics or bullet thermal soaring would be in my future, I predicted. My friends know me as a chickenhawk first hand. I've done the walk of shame from every launch I've visited, most of those at least twice! So, after 5 years of safe flying what do I do? I break my leg on a favourite launch in a 5 knot wind. How embarassing.

The sad tale begins as our hero climbs to Kahana low launch with Tim and Don. Just as we get to position Ken does a very nice take off at high launch. That's funny, I thought. Seems windy enough down here.Then the featherweight Tim demonstrates a perfect space shuttle launch in a 12 knot breeze going almost vertically and slightly laterally, almost knocking my head with his boots. Beautiful. Perfect conditions. The ever polite Don asks if I want to launch first. I accept since I haven't flown Kahana for 3 months, and may need help "rearranging" in case of a blown take off.

I'm now strapped in, checklist complete and try to build a wall. The leading edge of my wing flops forward, hanging limply. I almost ask Don if it feels too light, but don't bother when a slight wisp of a breeze touches the cells and flips them back. A quick pull, and the wing slowly goes overhead with no C lines needed. The wing seems a bit "baggy" and sluggish, but I quickly turn and launch.....straight into a tree. The drag slows me down cosiderably for 2 seconds, then I'm flying forward for another 2 seconds, then things begin to go wrong. An uncommanded right turn, straight towards the hill, and I'm descending fast. The hill is covered with trees and bushes. I land hard between two of them. Ow. That hurt, but I radio an " I'm OK." Then I try to untangle my wing when I discover it's a wee bit painful to stand on my left leg. Don helps, and then Alex climbs up to fly my wing down. I hobble down the hill using a stick as a crutch, then drive to the hospital.

What can be learned from this accident? A lot. This very familiar site is a high wind launch zone that I've used over 50 times. My familiarity bred complacency. Just because the wind was 12-15 when I got there, didn't mean it was going to stay that way. I've rejected take offs for high winds before. So why didn't I reject for low wind? Another reason may be lack of currency. Having not flown this site for many months, I should have sat down, watched everyone for a while and contemplated my impending flight.

What could I have done differently once I hit the tree? Full brakes. I would have mushed into the trees ahead, since I was already at a very slow speed. Paragliding is very forgiving of errors and neglect, but not of pure boneheadedness. My 8 second ride would be very respectable in a rodeo, but not in aviation.

After a last minute scan for approaching weather, there's only three things to check before pulling up your wing: Obstacles (people, trees) immediately in front of you, wind direction, and wind speed. Simple isn't it? It is. That's why I'm feeling so stupid right now.

1 comment:

firedave said...

Ouch, a little hard on yourself Chickenhawk. I am sure there is a lesson in there somewhere. Let me know when you are venturing back out again, I will bring a light.