Sunday, October 01, 2006

Broken Wing(man)

As many of you have probably heard through the grapevine, Jetflap Jeff (the reigning "King of Makapuu") Forrest had a hard landing at the LZ today. I spoke to Lana at Queens ER a few minutes ago and Jeff had broken a wrist and fractured his T12 vertebra. Other than that he is doing fine and might get to spend a little more at home time with his wife in the near future.

We are wishing him a speedy recovery so he can get back out in the swing of things. When the sting wears off (and the painkillers) we hope he can give a full report.


paliglydr said...

Glad he's gonna be O.K. I hope Jetflap writes up what happened for us. One more bit of wisdom regarding landings at Makapuu LZ.

The hangies are gonna be upset again. The media reported this as a hang gliding accident.

sandy said...

Was it really 35 feet? ouch! Are you really 44 y.o.? Oh my! ;-) Did they get anything right?

Please take care of yourself and get plenty of rest. Heal well and hurry back. Let us know if we can help in any way (can we hawk some metal for you?)

Nick said...

Here is my take of the whole incident.

I arrived at MPU and assisted Ray and his tandem off from Crazy's. Bob and his tandem were already airborne. Jeff mentioned over the radio that he had to land early today. A couple of minutes later, he transmitted a warning about the North conditions at the LZ. I assume that he was talking about Rabbit rotor. As I was laying out my wing at Crazy's and conversing with a spectator, I remember seeing Jeff heading towards the LZ, he was about 200 feet the last time I saw him in the air.

I had just buckled into my harness when a very excited man ran up to me at Crazy's and yelled "One of your friends have just crashed at the windsock down the road, an ambulance has been called!" I proceeded to transmit that Jeff is hurt at the LZ, but of course my radio battery was low! Murphy's Law! So I wasn't sure if my transmissions were getting out. I quickly balled up my wing and threw it into the car...right about this time, the ambulance rushed by. Wow that was quick!

When I arrived at the scene, the EMT had Jeff out of his harness and lying on his side. His wing was straddling the stop sign at the LZ. He was on the street side of the curving rock wall at the MPU LZ. His helmet, boots, and socks were off and he had the whole michael jackson left glove only thing going on. As I approached within earshot of his conversation with the EMTs, I expected to hear things from Jeff like, "Be careful with my wrist, my back, my neck etc", but Jeff being the super trooper he is said things like "You don't have to cut that strap", "We can get this flightsuit off in one piece.." "I'm not hurting there, why are you touching me there? (okay he didn't say that, but it would’ve been funny)" I asked him what happened and he said that the wind shifted from East to North at a bad time. I offered to take care of his equipment and had him fish out his car keys. The fact that he was able to find his keys and move his legs was a good sign. Then the key moment happened. Jeff looked at me intently with those keen blue eyes and I steeled myself for what was sure to be a profound statement, "Nick, be careful with my wing." I nodded solemnly.

I then proceeded to pick up all his articles strewn about. His socks were the hardest things to pick up, but I dug deep and accomplished this task too. By this time, Ray and Bob had landed. I had to give the Park police my info because I took Jeff’s stuff. Bob stepped in and handled the parks guy with dialogue to make any politician proud. We then made a few phone calls worked out the logistics of getting Jeff’s car and holy wing back home.

Ray suggested that we head to the hospital so I followed him to Queens. There we met Lana and waited. This was the first time that I had met Lana and she seemed remarkably calm in the ER waiting room. Ray and I took turns recounting near-death paragliding experiences with her to see if maybe she would be distraught over our experiences, but again, she was remarkably calm. After a losing battle trying to find Waldo (the things you find in an ER waiting room…), Lana was allowed to visit. Jeff then requested Ray’s presence. Much to my surprise I wasn’t requested. I thought for sure that Jeff would want full report on how the wing folding went. Oh well.

Afterwards Ray helped me install my reserve in my new harness. As we were handling the reserve in the dimly lit hospital garage, I was sure that we would see the boys in blue because it really did look like we were planting a bomb. The reserve was packed in a shiny gold bag with lots of strings (wires) protruding…

That’s my take of the accident. Of course I tried to lighten the mood, but seriously I wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him soaring the skies again. I hope to see him with a big smile and a bigger cooler of cold refreshments in the interim. I’m sure our pet booby bird will miss him too.


JeffMc said...

If that "curving rock wall" had anything to do with this, I've got a sledgehammer with its name on it. It's evil.

Take care and get well "fast kine" Jeff.


paliglydr said...

Thanks for the report, Nick.

Brazilian Ray said...

Get well, dude! and please, no more harsh landings!
we love you, man.

Alex said...

I just heard from Christine that her pal Bill just crashed while ridge soaring over in Santa Barbara, receiving compression fractures in L1,L2 and L4 vertebrae. This is not a good week for Hawaii pilots. Jeff and Bill - you guys take care of your injuries and get well soon. Everybody else - please be careful out there. Let's all leave ourselves extra margins of safety every time we fly.

firedave said...

Okay it is a topic I have gone over before but I can't state it enough. All pilots should fly as if they don't have any back protection at all. If you are flying within about 50' of the ground then you should either stand-up or be on the balance point of standing up. Ass landings are unacceptable period. All of the spinal injuries we have had here are because of ass landings, with pilots remaining in their harnesses unable to react to sudden changes. Ray, Farmer, Stalker, maybe even Jeff.

I watched Abe do it first, now I always arrive sitting up in my harness with my feet tucked underneath ready to put my feet down. Tandem I always have my passenger and myself already standing on arrival. I have had some wild landings, but no injuries.

I did have one hard top landing, but I was a cause of poor planning, luck was with me that day, right Alex?

Alex said...

Yes, Dave, you were lucky that day. I've never seen such a hard whack that close up, and you could tell by my reaction that I thought you were seriously hurt. I'm very glad you weren't!

I don't know if it's just due to your boundless good karma, your natural aerial talent or your top level of fitness, but I think we have all noticed that you tend to get away with more radical flying than anyone else here (although Doug might have you beat if he was free to fly more often.)

Whether it's pioneering the strong wind launches and flying the strongest days at Makapuu with the smallest wings, or launching in gale force winds at Koko Head and barely missing the powerlines, landing on the side of the road at Tantalus, or even cajoling impressionable pilots into trying to cross boogaland alone, many have tried to follow your example and have paid painful prices for failing.

I'm not saying anyone else's decisions are your fault - we are all responsible for our own flying. But at the same time, as a group we have an opportunity to share the responsibility of helping each other fly safely.

Part of that means recognizing that there are different levels of flying and not all of us are destined to reach your level. I know you would like more company up there, on the many stronger days when pilots like Doug are not available, but the fact is that it's just not as safe for the rest of us, even though we see you get away with it every time without making it look dangerous.

The other factor is being able to judge the conditions. There was a time (the good old days? the bad old days?) when we were all limited to flying Makapuu in wind strengths that were not challenging for most mere mortal pilots. Since that time, the majority of our accidents and incidents there have been connected with flying in stronger conditions, or from the challenges of our new and exciting low launches. I think many of us have lost any sure sense of the best and safest windows of wind strength and direction out there, and it doesn't make it easier to know that a few pilots consider any windspeed to be flyable there. With the proliferation of launch options out there, the burden of understanding the conditions has increased for us, but I don't think many of us have kept up with those demands.

I suggest that there are three practical steps we can all take to improve our safety while still enjoying plenty of airtime:

1. Always stand up in your harness as you get anywhere close to the ground. It's not easy to make final steering corrections, but overall most pilots seem to agree that it's way safer.

2. We need to find a way to be more honest with each other when we think our buddies may be exceeding their current capabilities. There's got to be a way for us to help people understand that it may not be as safe for them as for someone else to fly on a given day, or at a given site, on a given wing, etc. This kind of frankness may be perceived as persecution but I think it's worth that risk.

3. We need to come up with a very solid and easy to understand system of assessing flyable conditions at Makapuu. Short of closing our new launches in favor of returning to an all-Cactus program (which I personally would favor), the next best proposal would be to make it clear to everyone that exceeding a given windspeed cutoff inreases their risks dramatically. I would propose that if the wind is blowing 10 or more at the Makapuu LZ, then you had better be an advanced pilot in full control of your wing and flying at the top of your game. Kahana may be a long drive for many people but it is certainly safer for the average pilot in stronger winds. And unless you are a serious acro pilot, you will probably get more out of a flight by exploring the lighter range of conditions or sites available on a given day. We fly the slowest wings in the sky - personally I think that's a strength to be exploited, not a weakness to be overcome.

Looking forward to hearing from other people on this. Some good comments already.

By the way: Nick, you are a very talented and funny writer. I hope you will consider writing an article of your own sometime for the website. Hopefully about a happier subject!

firedave said...

I guess I should get back to work on the Makapuu site guide with a focus on understanding wind there. But other than Cliff, Johan and Jamie, I don't recall any real injuries from launching in overly strong conditions there. Jetflap, Stalker, Trombone, Chopper all had major factors other than strong wind.
As far as the low launches, it is inevetable that the more people fly the more likely something might happen. What is the line "Launching is optional, landing is mandatory".

The point I was trying to get accross above was that I have seen too many, especially low time pilots skid accross the ground on their butts, as I did when I began, and I wanted to minimize the risks associated with it.

This has nothing to do with Jeff, just an obvious easy fix to a potential problem.

Nice post Nick.

Brazilian Ray said...

please check this book, recommended in the paragliding instructor's manual:

The art of skysailing (charts of reliability) by Michael Robertson

I hope it will help!

frank said...

Jeff and I should've put the LZ off limits after our first landing that
day. Air at launch (8-12mph), the lighthouse and the beach bowl was
very smooth and laminar but the rotor from Rabbit was vicious. When the
north side overpowered the east side of Rabbit the wind would switch to
the north and vice versa at the LZ. It wasn't strong just switchy. The
passing showers weren't helping out either. I should've aborted to the
Heiau after arriving at 500 ft over the water in front of the LZ and got
put in the washing machine. I don't mind the rock and roll at altitude
but near the ground is unsettling. I had a hard landing trying to switch
back and forth between north and east final approach as I felt lucky to
make the sweet spot of the LZ. About 5 ft off the ground I was suddenly
dropped to the ground before I started to flare as the wind swirled
behind me. Luckily, I was in the standup positon. On our second flight
Ray had the same switch on him as he set up for E approach and it
changed and put him in a downwind runout. Maybe we could tie a long red
streamer beneath the LZ windsock to indicate "seek alternative LZ/flying
location due to switchy/rotor/blownout conditions." In the military
they declare a flying stand-down to review all safety procedures after
an accident. Just some ideas. I've seen our sport really expand in
popularity lately and I'd hate to see some accidents force local
officials (non-flyers) to start making decisions for us. Jeff is doing good, I
dropped by to see him at home and he thanks everyone for the positive
thoughts on the Chatter box. He will be going into work today. He even
made the doctors leave his thumb and fingers exposed on his cast so he
can grab the brake handle.

Jetflap said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sandy said...

Hey Jeff, glad to see you're back at the keyboard. I do hope you will write that report up when you are able, so the many of us can maybe learn *something* from it. Those who ignore the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them. Please share with us more of your wisdom. As I am resistant to flying in early mornings, I have been missing opportunities to learn from you and Frank. Our newer pilots have alot yet to learn, and have not yet accumulated the hours of chatting in the LZ that contributes to the body of knowledge which aids individuals in making decisions.

I just reread Alex's comments, and really, I don't think they were directly squarely at you, but instead were far more of a general line of advice (which was offered freely and can be taken or left) of some ideas of how any of us might avoid those incidents that make us cringe.

Below is what I started writing yesterday in response to Alex's comments.
Many of us when we hear about terrible accidents start looking for ways to "re-engineer" processes to eliminate (though we know we can at best diminish) the chance that it will happen to us or to anyone else again...

Alex, I think you're bringing up MANY important points, one which if I am interpreting correctly, I'd like to highlight.

Much of the talk about wind strength a Makapuu is in relation to launching (which launch is best? will I bomb out on the beach or get dragged back at Cactus? will there be rotor from the lighthouse?) and then flying (stay low and out front and away from the venturi areas if it is strong), but not much is brought up about conditions at the LZ.

I've become more conscious of hazards landing in rotor at Kahana through Alex's guidance. Here are some pointers I have gleaned from him that I can share:
-- Easterly winds, and particularly stronger E winds, will cause rotor from the ridge SE of the bay.
What to do?
-- Determine true prevailing wind direction (in rotor, streamers on the beach may lie) --Watch the clouds blowing overhead -- visualize if that wind direction is likely to rotor over the ridge
-- Estimate the strength: If the winds are blowing over the SE ridge, it is very likely that you won't be able to feel the true prevailing wind strength on the beach or hill, and may believe it is less than it actually is. Try to judge the wind strength from the speed of the clouds overhead or from somewhere else, like Kualoa park
-- look for dark patches on the water indicative of rotor
--> in these conditions, it may be better to go around the N corner to land at the beach park where the wind flow off the water is cleaner (or not launch at all)
--> this Punaluu beach LZ is not very big, particularly if the tide is high, so some pilots *might* prefer to land further inland at the big fields (pick the dry ones, some are just swamps, ask S. Pete), but even these can be subject to dangerous E wind rotor (ask B. Ray)

So then what of Makapu'u?
... well, this is where I left off. Perhaps you can finish it for me Jeff or Frank ...

Jetflap said...

i have decided not to post again....until i am much less medicated. apologies to alex.


Alex said...

Guys, I spoke with Jeff - we're still friends, don't worry. I explained that my safety ideas were meant for all of us, including myself, and he explained that he's not thinking straight since he's medicated and overall feeling pretty bad, and he may have overreacted. He asked me to delete his post for him.

sandy said...

When I was in France a few years ago, I made a critical series of mental errors that ended in my landing successfully, though quite unsafely, on a narrow strip of grass between powerlines and houses.

Gentle Bob who kindly came to retrieve me was downright mean and nasty with his anger over my poor decisions. When I got back to the LZ, Mad Dog essentially called me an idiot. I was otherwise calm and greatly relieved that I had pulled off the landing and just wanted everyone to quit making a big deal about it.

I think our first response in these situations is grave concern for our friend (coupled with frustration at being unable to do anything worthwhile to help), followed by concern for ourself (can I prevent this happening to me? our Ego says YES!), and finally concern for our community (will this impinge on our future enjoyment? can we prevent this happening to anyone again?)

I wrote up a full report, but never posted it anywhere. I think I should, because if I ever hear about anyone else making the same misjudgements I did, I'll not be able to forgive myself. Shame on me.

Gravity said...

Great Sandy. Although I don't remember any incident in France involving you're landing; anything you post about you're experiance in France that freaked out so many pilots is a 'Lesson learned'.

Please post, so we can all learn something.

PS I still teach you're landing technique of pointing your toes at the LZ. Works great!