Sunday, September 20, 2009

Baptism at Sandy's in a Pink Wing

You wanted a story from Bonkers, so … here it is: I woke up this morning and was anxious to fly (paraglide); as I always am. But this day was special; this day represented my 25th solo flight. This meant that it was my “graduation” day – or, the day I was ‘supposed’ to get my P2 rating (well; after I read the book and took the test, that is). Needless to say, this was the flight that would get me to that point. I was excited. But … I failed. No rating for me.

So, it was a great day to fly and pilots were heading to Makapu. Reaper (my instructor) and I joined them around noon. The pilots were launching out of “Crazies” (a steep launch on the side of the highway, right below the power lines; a few hundred feet above the beach – they call it that for a reason). When we arrived at “Crazies”, Sidehill was preparing to launch while JD was next in line, Hillbilly’s grandmother and Brazilian Ray (tandem) after him, and subsequently Hillbilly decided he was going to launch in order to be in the air with his grandmother. I was next.

I put on my gear: boots; long-sleeved t-shirt; communication radio harness and radio; secured the camera to the harness, strapped on the GPS and Vario; gloves; helmet; harness; and put my iPhone in the pocket of my harness. I picked up my risers and walked down the steep hill on launch, while Reaper spread out my wing. I connected the risers to the carabineers on my harness. With brakes in hand, I positioned the A-risers in my right hand, pulled the glider up, turned around, applied a little brake pressure, and I was airborne. I joined several other pilots that were already in the air. Reaper launched after me with a tandem.

Aside from a bit of thermal or “bumpy” air, I was having a good flight. It was a windy day and I was informed to stay in front by several pilots. After nearly an hour of flying, I decided I wanted to gain enough altitude to go out over the ocean to practice asymmetric spirals. I headed back toward the mountain to obtain lift.

I hit the thermal air again and tried to get away from it by going a different direction. Navy Joey asked, “How you doin’, Bon Bon?” I replied, “I’m in some nasty air and I’m trying to get out of it.” I had full speed bar on to attempt to quickly penetrate out over the water when I looked down and noticed I was no longer going forward and the edge of the mountain ridge was getting further and further in front of me.

I quickly got on the radio and said, “I’m on full speed bar and am going backwards, what do I do?” I couldn’t hear Navy Joey’s response and I wanted to hear coaching from my instructor. I got back on the radio and said, “Reaper, can you hear me?!” He said, “Yeah, what’s up?” I said, “I’m on full speed bar and I’m going backwards, what do I do?” He looked up and saw me and said, “Oh, shoots, you gotta turn and burn. You gotta go land at Sandy’s [Beach]!”

Fireman Dave was at a different position in the air and said, “Wait a minute, you may not have to go there quite yet, stay on ‘bar’ and try to get out front.” Reaper agreed and said, “Yeah, go right over ‘Cactus’ (another launch, on the top of the mountain) and you may be able to get back.” I tried for a few seconds and quickly realized it wasn’t working. “I’m still going backwards.” Reaper instructed, “Turn and burn! You gotta go. You’re not coming back. Turn and burn. Go to Sandy’s.”

I was approximately 11-1200’ in the air and turned to head to Sandy’s while Reaper and Fireman Dave were on radio with me. Reaper said, “Be aware of the rotor, you may need to throw [your reserve parachute].” I was a bit nervous at that point because I had been in rotor twice before and it was rough. Rotor basically means that the air is circulating. As I was on the radio and being blown over the back of the mountain, other pilots knew that I would need a ride, so Gin headed toward Sandy’s Beach.

I went over the golf course and found the rotor. It was as though I was going through a washing machine in a paraglider. I announced on the radio, “Shoots…There’s the rotor!!” I held on to the brakes as if they were handles on a rollercoaster ride. I tried to keep steady pressure on both sides. The glider was rocking in every direction and my legs were flailing in the air. I looked around for places to land as I was slowly losing altitude. The glider surged forward, then backwards; left, then right.

I stayed calm and continued looking for the beach, or “Eddie’s Kite Field”. I have [obviously] never flown that direction before and wasn’t sure when I should turn into the wind to land. I made it to Eddie’s Kite Field, then to Sandy’s Beach and was 600 feet up. Since I was still too high to attempt to land (and my lack of experience), I kept flying.

I over-shot the field and beach and got over the water and turned into the wind. I was still 5- or 600 feet high and knew I had gone too far. I put on full speed bar to try to get back to the beach, but it was too late. I was, once again, flying backwards and heading toward the “Blow Hole”. I got on the radio and announced that I was going in the water. Reaper (not knowing my current location) disagreed. “No, you’re not; you’re not going in the water.” “Yes I am!!!” “No, you’re not, just keep flying over Sandy’s and turn into the wind.” “I’m going in the water!” “No you’re not.” About 100 feet up, I said, “I’m in the water.” (I knew he wasn’t getting my point).

Once I learned I had gone too far and couldn’t get back, I was sure I was going to experience my first water landing. Reaper said, “Start getting out of your harness.” Meanwhile, he called the Fire Department and explained that he is a Paragliding Pilot and was currently in the air and a paraglider was going in the water at Sandy’s. (He wanted to make sure the FD knew it was not an inaccurate report, as they get a lot of false calls for paragliders – mostly when tourists see a glider on the side of the mountain preparing to launch, it looks as though someone may have crashed.)

I unhooked one buckle, and then hit the water as my glider fell down in front of me. I was upside down (on my stomach) with the weight of the harness on my back. Luckily, the harness served as a life jacket with an air bag and a piece of foam installed within it. I thought the weight of the harness (which was still connected to the glider) would pull me under. I looked up and saw that I was approximately 50 yards away from the ‘Blow Hole’ and noticed a ton of tourists watching me. I waved my arms and yelled for help so that someone knew I was in danger.

I felt around for the rest of the buckles on my harness so I could break free of it, but I couldn’t find them and soon realized I was becoming entangled in the lines of the paraglider. I felt something tight wrapped around my left arm, then I felt the lines wrapped around my left ankle.

I focused on keeping my head above the water and gave up trying to get out of my harness; since it was keeping me afloat. I looked around and hoped I wouldn’t get any closer to the large rocks. I knew the current was strong (from a previous Sandy’s experience) and didn’t want to be part of a wave that crashes against the rocks. After a few minutes in the water, I looked up and saw a lifeguard swimming towards me. I have never felt so relieved. I knew I would be ok.

I said to him, “Thanks, man.” He asked what happened and if I was ok and handed me a flotation device and told me to hold on to it. He said, “Whew! That was a swim!” I said, “Thank you so much. I’m sorry. I was flying at Makapu and got blown over the back, hit rotor and flew too far over the beach. At least I provided you with some excitement today!” He said, “That’s ok, no worries. A jet ski will be arriving soon.” I said, “Ok.” He then asked if I could get out of my harness. I told him I couldn’t find the buckles to unhook them and I was wrapped around my lines. He said, “I have a knife, we may need to cut the lines.” I said, “No! No! You can’t! These are brand new, $500 lines! I’m ok; we’ll be able to get them untangled.” He agreed.

The jet ski arrived and the lifeguards quickly asked if I was ok. I said, “Yeah, yeah; I’m good. Thank you.” One asked, “Can you get out of your gear?” I said, “I can’t find the buckles, but if I get up on the sled, I can see to unhook them.” I got up on the sled and struggled to unclip them. One lifeguard was helping me get out of my harness; another was trying to untangle the lines wrapped around my ankles. He said, “I can’t get these lines out, can I take off your shoe?” I replied, “Yeah, yeah, go for it!”

As they got me untangled and out of my gear, I said to the lifeguards, “I would rather you take the glider on the sled and leave me here until you drop it off on the beach and you can come back and get me.” A lifeguard replied, “No, no, we can’t do that, you’re safety is more important than your gear.” I said, “I know, I know, but it’s not my stuff and I want to make sure I get it.” They said, “We’ll take you back on the ski and come back and get your gear.” I agreed and lied down on my stomach on the sled as one of the lifeguards straddled me to help me stay on. I held on with one hand and held my shoe in the other.

The lifeguards took me to a beach near the Blow Hole. As I got off the sled I was a few feet away from the beach itself. The surf was intense and the jet ski and sled were getting rocked up and down. With my broken electronics in hand, I began swimming to the beach. The sled got caught in a wave and came down and hit me in the head. A lifeguard said, “Oh, watch your head!” I said, “It’s ok.” (I still had my helmet on). I thanked them once again and they said they would grab my gear, put it on the sled and bring it to me. I told them that would be awesome and I would greatly appreciate it.

After being sucked under a wave and taken by the current, I got up and walked to the beach. I put the electronics on a rock and lied down to catch my breath. Many tourists asked questions and showed concern as to whether or not I was ok. I explained what happened and that I was ok. I took off my helmet and began walking up the rocks. A couple of guys came down from the rocks above and I asked if they saw the lifeguards on a jet ski coming this way [with my glider], they said, “No, I think they went back to Sandy’s, I saw them heading that way.” I said, “No way, they said they would bring my glider to me.”

I quickly climbed up the rocks to see if I could see them. I could see they were trying to load my glider onto the sled. It was extremely heavy as it was filled with water. As I was watching them, I thought about hiking up to the “lookout” to ask the tourists if anyone saw a pink paraglider go into the water – I knew that someone had to have caught it on video… and I wanted it. Then I realized I should wait for them to bring the glider. I heard Gin call my name, I looked up and she said, “Are you ok?” I gave her a ‘thumbs-up’ and yelled, “Yes.” She asked if she should come down and I explained no, I would come up and they are bringing my gear.

I climbed down the rocks to the beach and a few minutes later, I saw the jet ski coming with my glider on the back. I was so appreciative to the lifeguards who not only saved me, but took the extra, unnecessary step to rescue my gear. After we got the glider and harness on the beach, they told me I should move it soon as the tide was coming up. I thanked them again and asked them their names (Donovan and Steve).

Shortly there-after, another lifeguard swam up to the beach. I said, “What are you doing? You had to swim all the way here?!” He said, “Yes.” I asked him his name (David) and thanked him and realized that he was forced to swim to the beach because they put all of my gear on the sled. I asked the lifeguards what kind of beer they liked and explained that I would try to repay them by bringing them beer. They told me they enjoyed Heineken. (After talking story with other pilots, Reaper and I delivered beer to the Fire Station and to the lifeguards.)

As I am glad that no one was hurt or injured (or attacked by sharks), I am disappointed all of the electronics are out of commission, especially my phone and Reaper’s radio, camera, and GPS. I felt horrible that none of the equipment was mine and it was ruined.

A lady on the beach saw me in dripping-wet and sandy boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved t-shirt and asked if I was ok. I was trying to open up the camera to get the SD card out in hopes that it would still work. I told her what happened and I was ok, and then asked if she had dry hands. She said yes and I asked her to help me open the camera. After the lifeguards brought my gear to the beach, Reaper was there to make sure I was ok and to help me carry the heavy gear. I was carrying the wet, heavy harness up the rocks to the top of the lookout at the Blow Hole when a couple asked if I needed help. I accepted the assistance and continued on the hike up.

Once I got to the top, I realized that Navy Joey, Hillbilly, and Fireman Dave came to ensure that I was safe and to see if I needed any help. Reaper grabbed some trash bags out of trash cans to put the wet gear in, Navy Joey helped, and Gin provided some dry clothes and a ride for me. I quickly walked over to the tourists that were taking pictures at the Blow Hole lookout and asked, “Did anybody see a pink paraglider go into the water? One guy replied, “Yeah, there was one down there (as he pointed).” I said, “No, it was me, but I wanted a copy of the video!!” He said, “Oh, no, sorry, I missed it.” Everyone else looked like they had just arrived, so I was unfortunately out of luck in getting a hold of any photos or videos of the event.

Needless to say, this so-called ‘special’ flight was not-so-special anymore, as I knew I wasn’t going to achieve my Pilot’s license. I would like to let all of you know … that would be my last solo flight…

HAHAHAHAHA!!! RIGHT! Like I would let two “over-the-back”, rotory flights; a few gnarly death spirals; and a nasty rotor-landing in my first 25 flights stop me!! I said I would someday be a World Champion Paragliding Pilot, and I meant it!
Mahalo to everyone who helped me with my first water landing experience. I really do appreciate your help and support. The Fire Department and lifeguards were quick to respond and the Paragliding Pilot crowd truly is a wonderful group of people to be a part of. Thank you.

So. . . what’s next for Bonkers?


Rich. said...


You're Really Rackin' up some "Learning Experiences", Aren't you. Reminds me of a friend of mine who would always run into one emergency after another. This was like 1994 and we were calling him 9-1-1.

Glad to hear you're OK and good luck with that equipment

Brazilian Ray said...

Glad you're ok and thanks for the report! going over the back sucks and it can be a scary lesson (been there, done that.... TWICE!). your report helps bringing awareness to other pilots and we appreciate it!

constant penetration checks are very important in all of our sites. I mean flying into the wind and making sure you're moving forward, specially on a beginner and/or slower glider. a lot of times we see others flying up high or far back but the faster glider could be deceiving, so if you see somebody all the way up there (or sometimes just even flying for that mater) it doesn't mean it is safe for everybody to be there. take baby steps and check as you go. also be aware of changing conditions by keeping an eye on the water and other indicators of any wind speed increase.
flying over the water represent a chance of someday landing there (do I need to say been there done that, again?) and some of us fly with a inflatable life vest. It is a good idea and could save your life, specially for beginners and pilots trying "new" adventures like wingovers or acro over the water. In case you find yourself hitting the drink, here are a few tips.... If you have the time:

-turn off electronics
-unbuckle yourself in the air
-jump from the harness a few feet before hitting the water (so the glider with the lines will fly and land away from you)

if you don't know how to swim, you should learn ;)

your electronics will have a better chance of survival if they are turned off. In an effort to revive them, if CPR doesn't work, try to wash with distilled water as soon as you can! also use a product called "corrosion block" (buy it at west marine, POP or any good fishing store). Open it up and let air dry, do not use microwave and avoid the hair dryer (blower). you can use dry rice to accelerate the drying process by putting your device in a bow and covering it ;)

USHPA magazine just had an article about landing in the water, learning from others experiences can be a lot better! I am glad you're determined to fly hard and you almost got me for a second there, I had to read that paragraph about quitting twice! very funny!
looking forward to see your titles!

fly safe!

Brazilian Ray

JeffMc said...

Damn, Bon - that was a chilling account of your experience. Thanks for writing that up (not too long at all!). Very glad you're OK!!

I agree w/ Ray - a fresh/distilled water bath might save your electronics if they were off when you landed? I had a water landing once and my vario survived (everything else was toast though)

I think another valuable lesson would be to remind ourselves to memorize where our harness buckles are. I know it's something that concerns me, personally. Every time I'm putting on my flight deck, I can't help but think... "man - that's an extra buckle or two I need to remember if I land in the water". Makes me wonder if a flight deck is really a good idea?


Sharky said...

OTBonnie...just glad to hear you are safe and sound!

Thanks for your account of yesterdays excitement.

If your electronics were off, you may still be able to ressurect them in a bath of distilled water followed by a thorough drying.

I usually ziplock up my cellphone and windmeter or other electronics that I don't use while flying. I won't take my iphone up with me and take a beater go-phone for emergencies instead.

Just thankful you're safe and have another experience under your belt.

Fly on! :)


Anonymous said...

Well written exciting story, Wow, Glad your OK. ChopperDave

Joey said...

Back-door Bonnie...We are really glad this had a happy ending! Thanks for your story.

As a professional aviator, I can tell ya that practice makes perfect when knowing your equipment. I have spent countless hours geting to know my own harness and instilling that muscle memory needed to get out if needed in a situation where I couldnt see...well, the same goes for a paragliding harness. This situation just goes to show that it could happen and does. Maybe this could be a lesson learned to help other PG students, and the rest of us to "get to know our gear".
As for your personal safety, this is always a priority. If your life is in jeopardy and you have to cut your lines...cut em, you can always get them replaced. As you seen first hand, getting tangled is way easier then getting untangled, know where your hook knife is, you may have needed it!
Again, thanks Bonnie and like they say.."that what doesnt kill ya only makes you stronger", learn from your mistakes as we all can learn from others too.

Keep your eyes to the high!


Gravity said...

We all have a lot to learn from this, especially me as her instructor and boyfriend. from now on I am requiring all of my students to spend an afternoon with me at a pool and we're gonna do water landing classes.

I will no longer hand out a P-2 license without a pool test.

Yesterday, is the 2nd time a paraglider landed in the water at sandy beach. I was the 1st some years ago when my "Death spiral" was a few turns too long and found myself looking up at the beach about 50 yards from shore.
Being that I had 15 or so years experience and the fact that this was my 10th water landing I knew what to do.

I unbuckled my harness, turned off radio and electronics, and sat on the edge of my seat holding on to my risers until I was 10' above the water. I jumped free of the glider, landed on the reef, and swam ashore. I waited until the waves were calm and swam out and got my harness detached from the glider. We then waited for the glider to wash ashore. It took 10 of us to wrestle the glider up the beach and a one point I was almost sucked in to the shore break by a few lines. It's Very dangerous to be in the surf with a glider.

Bonnie got lucky yesterday in the fact she landed so far out from the surf, the HFD was there already, and lifeguards had a jetski on the beach. Now imagine the other places we over the water with no lifeguards?

Also, if you find yourself flying backwards, you need to get as high as possible which is why I sent Bonnie over the back so soon. I feared she would encounter the rotor much to soon and over the back of cactus. BJ crashed their years ago, and although he was unhurt, it was a very difficult rescue with tons Kiawe trees and bushes.

Once you've determined that your going over the back, you have to think about potential LZ's. Or maybe the softest looking trees?

You also have to possibly turn into the wind sooner than you think so like in Bonnie's case you don't get blown back beyond your next LZ. The book tells us that in high winds your base leg turn into a windy LZ should be made further into the wind. Landing at Sandy beach park in high 'Off-shore' winds may require you to turn at the highway or maybe even the golf course, so that you can land going backwards but at least at a slower speed. You may also have to grab your 'D' risers just above the brake pulley's and land with them instead of brakes so you don't get dragged. I do this all the time when I land tandems in high winds. It works great. It also the way you land if you break your lower brake line and can no longer be used.


Gravity said...

Another thing to ponder is at what point of going over-the-back(OTB) do think about a reverse toss? I told Bonnie yesterday that she should be prepared for a reserve toss in the event she encountered severe turbulence or rotor winds. She says she did "Get rocked", but I watched the entire flight and never did I see her getting too trashed. Suicide Pete survived the rotor once and landed at the golf course after an 'OTB' incident. But, Bungee Mike found going 'OTB' over Kaneohe by Valley of the temples was a different story. He was sucked into the clouds near H-3 and came out facing pearl Harbor. He radioed us to tell us that he would be landing near Pearl ridge fire station. As he tried to glide out he found the rotor and the next thing he knew he was looking down at his glider. After the 2nd time he got launched over his glider he threw his reserve and had a very slow decent into very tall jungle trees. HFD helicopter found him standing next to the tree and his glider stayed there a week with his keys and cell phone in the back of his harness before Skydive Chris, a rented chopper, and Mike retrieved what was left (Not much).

Don't hesitate to throw your reserve if you don't like whats happening to you. I rescue people all the time at mainland comps that have thrown their reserves. 99% walk away just fine. I actually did a stand-up landing on my only reserve ride.

Moral of the story is be prepared. Check the winds, forecasts, etc. Study the weather, and buy the books. Practice grabbing your reserve handle while you fly to familiarize yourself with its location without thinking about it, and don't get caught to far back or close to the mountain without 1st checking your penetration into the wind. Often I see newer pilots running back to the ridge in high winds and going 'Oh shit, I need to get outta here'. Avoid the 'Oh shit's' and be more cautious in higher winds.

I have been flying paragliders for over 20 years now and I have NEVER been blown over-the-back. Funny, huh?

Be safe.


MauiDoug said...

Wow, what a wild ride Bonnie! I'm glad you're OK! Thanks Reaper for reminding us to check the weather conditions before we fly. Thanks JeffMc for making me aware of the winds aloft website. I now make sure I check it every time I fly. NOAA's winds aloft link:

Bill (aka Hillbilly) said...

Good lessons learned and words of wisdom for all.

Bonkers, when you applied full speed bar did your metal pulleys pinch down and touch? If not, it wasn't adjusted to "Full bar". I found that out the hard way once upon a time...

Semper Paratus,

Alex said...

Great story Bonnie, glad you're okay! And great comments from everyone! I started to write one but it got too long so I created a separate article for it here:

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for all your kind words and advice. I have taken all of it to heart - and trust me, I have learned A LOT from this experience. I thought I learned a lot the first time, but geesh...I guess not. Look, it wasn't that I wasn't listening to any of the pilots when they told me to "stay out front" and "watch out for the venture" - I just got mixed up, once again, on where "not" to go. For the new pilots - some good advice is to be aware of your speed and penetration; I should have taken the slow speeds more seriously.

Alex, Brazilian Ray, and Reaper, thank you for your advice, it is all very good and great for all pilots to know. I think a water landing class is essential. Alex, thank you for your article, it taught me a lot - and I'm sure others learned a lot as well. It is great to know when to throw your laundry, and when to know that it is not necessary. I was glad Reaper threw the idea out there that it "may be" necessary in this situation (as I was going OTB), because I would have otherwise probably not considered it. Pilots who have not been in this position may not think of things like when to throw your reserve, etc. I just knew I did NOT want to throw it unless it was absolutely necessary and I knew the wing was out of control.

Reaper may have been watching me, and may not have seen the nastiest air I have yet to be in (there have already been 2 other really nasty times) - but it was bad! I tried to explain it in my story, but maybe it wasn't enough. I surged FORWARD, then BACKWARD, my legs were flailing uncontrollably up into the air (if you watch me fly you will notice that my legs are normally crossed at the ankles) - then I got rocked LEFT, then RIGHT. It was all very uncomfortable and I was sweatin' it and cussing the whole time. The best advice I can give in this situation: STAY CALM! Don't freak out, that's the worst thing you can do. Maybe I did not do the wrong thing by keeping steady brake pressure, but it seemed to have done the trick. That's what I did the first time I went OTB, and it worked then, too. Even though I was calm, I could not think fast enough to consider whether or not I needed to be hands up or brakes on - so I kept a steady pressure.

I understand that I got VERY lucky yesterday and I am so thankful for HFD and the lifeguards. I saw the fire truck as I was coming in for the landing; I assumed they were there for another call, but I think they hang out and wait for something to go wrong there. Thank goodness.

I know I should have tried harder to get out of my harness, but I was too busy trying to figure out what I should be doing and by the time I got closer and closer to the water and go one unbuckled, it was too late. I was talking on the radio instead. I am very lucky that the harness and gear did not pull me under. It actually kept me afloat-even though it was on top of me and I was face down. I reached around for my buckles a few times, but I mainly concentrated on keeping my head up and waving my arms so the lifeguards knew I was in danger-or to let them know that I was conscious.

I know I messed up by totally surpassing the beach, but maybe it was a good thing that I overshot it as much as I did. Had I landed closer to the beach, the surf would have been much stronger, I would have been dunked under by the massive waves and I know I wouldn't have been able to stay afloat. Yes, the lifeguards would have gotten to me sooner, but I would have spent much more time under the water than I experienced.

I am also aware that cutting away from the gear is essential in some circumstances - but when I realized I was not hurt, I was staying above the water and there did not seem to be much of a hazard, I knew it was ok not to cut away. Again - at this point, the best advice is to STAY CALM. It is hard to say how things could have been differently had my reaction been dissimilar, but I'm sure it wouldn't have been as positive as it was.

Continued. . . [By Bonkers]

Anonymous said...

Please be careful when flying - and don't be scared of my mistakes, but learn from them. If anyone has questions about it - please do not hesitate to ask - or maybe this has raised concerns that you have not considered before and can ask an experienced pilot or instructor.

I also want to note that I appreciate how each pilot watches out for one another while we are in the air.

Me...give up??? ....Shoots...If you don't know me by now, I am one of the most determined individuals you will ever meet!

Fly safe!


Anonymous said...

Btw...Reaper, you've flown for 20 yrs and have not gone over the back because your FAT!!

fat basterd