Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tree Landing Practice and the Art of Great Friends!

I want everyone to know that it was my fault. I decided to fly and probably do a sled ride to the LZ. Who would have known that my sled wouldn't inflate upon my forward launch. I noticed the cravat right after takeoff, so I decided to make a bee line to the LZ. As luck would have it, I wasn't able to make the LZ. On my way there it became apparent that I wouldn't make it.

I heard Bonnie on the radio: "Ken, head to the LZ -- your wing is not inflated." I had noticed the cravat immediately after the forward launch, and decided I could fly to the LZ instead of top landing. The wing seemed to be tracking normally, and the sink rate didn't actually feel different. As I approached the beach I soon realized I wouldn't make it. I then had to decide where to land: the water or the boat ramp were my choices.

I then noticed people fishing along the wall at the boat ramp, and cars all over the place. I decided to try and make it over the tree on the corner of the boat ramp, and bypass the sign poles and fishing poles along the water's edge. The only problem was I didn't actually clear the tree. I came in feet first, and whammo, I stopped. My wing was draped over the tree, and I was hanging there, dangling upside down. A quick checklist ran through my mind: I am alive, I am not hurt, and I am hanging upside down, 20 ft in the air. Within a few minutes my fellow paraglider pilots started showing up to rescue me, and that they did.

Bonnie ran until she was out of breath, Alex came and was scaring me by pulling the wing out of the tree with his one good arm. Thom ran up, scoping out the situation, and then ran back to get his ladder off his truck to retrieve me from my upside down position 20 ft in the air. By this time, I couldn't hold on too much longer. I started getting dizzy from hanging upside down; my biceps were getting tired and I couldn't hold on much longer. I then tried to move my legs over nearby small branches, and found I could release the pressure on my arms without worrying about falling to the ground. That was a big relief. By that time my newfound paragliding buddy Allan C. was up the tree yelling commands: get a line, so I can tie his harness off to the tree; don't move, you will break the branches and possibly fall and get hurt. So I did as he said. I soon thought, hey, if he was right next to me in the tree, maybe I can change my position and climb down myself. Of course, we called the fire department by this time and they were on their way. I then made it down and we went into retrieval mode.

I want to thank everyone for helping, but again Thom was at the forefront and made every effort to free the glider. To all that helped, my heartfelt thanks! Harvey, I have to say that was the best tasting "beverage" I have had in a long time. It took the edge off the situation as well. Alan C. charged the tree, and was the first one on the scene. He started barking off commands almost immediately after checking that I was okay: get a line so he doesn't fall, call 911, are you alright? Hey Allan, again, my heartfelt thanks -- it's good to know I have friends like you looking out for me.

When I look back at the incident, I see I failed myself on several accounts. The first sign that something was wrong was when Thom, an experienced pilot, called out on the radio, "This is too strange -- I am heading in." At first glance, he kited his wing and then off he went. We all thought that there wasn't enough lift -- we were hearing 4 ENE, and whammo, he was off planet earth with lift. Next was Harvey, no problem, skyed out. Then Bonnie took off -- again, no problem. Before I had set up my wing for takeoff, I could see Bonnie and Harvey scratching down low again after they had already skyed out … symptom 2.

By the time I was able to take off, Bonnie had called on the radio: it's too light, I am heading in. I then had to decide if it would be a hike down or a sled ride. After several aborted low wind reverse launches, I repositioned the wing for a forward launch, higher up on high launch, and figured I would make a bee line for the beach. In retrospect, I should have done the sound thing and hiked down, waiting for the next day to fly. Now I have to send my wing off island, for at best a repair job, and most likely a replacement, which are all good lessons. But when all is said and done, I thank the higher powers that be for all the great friends I have on mother earth. Again, Thom, Bonnie, Alex, Allan C. and Harvey: thanks for retrieving my poor soul! I look forward to flying with you all soon.


allanc said...


Really glad that you came out of the experience unharmed and that we were able to get you out of the tree safely. I took control of the scene because when I arrived you were in a precarious spot and were not really in a safe and stable condition. Those branches were really thin and you were upside down, kind of a hard position to evaluate your own safety from.

Appreciate your patience and clear evaluation of our options. I think that it worked out fine in the end. Just needed to make sure that we were not going to let you get hurt getting down from the tree, that would have been a tragedy.

Wanted to thank Thom, Bonnie, and Alex for their help and the Firefighters for responding. In this situation I was unsure if we were going to be able to get you down safely, so made the more conservative call. Apologize if I offended anyone. Went into first-responder mode.

Alex said...

Allan, I don't think Ken meant to imply anyone was offended. We absolutely need first responders like you in our group. Thanks for taking charge of Ken's rescue today. Wish I could have been more help! Not that you guys needed it.

Ken, thanks for the rides today. And thanks for writing up the story. Sorry you had such an expensive lesson. Hopefully your wing can be repaired and it won't be too costly. But mostly I'm glad you are okay.

Anonymous said...

Allen I meant you did a wonderful job and I appreciated your help!

Thanks again!
Hilo Ken

Thom said...


Glad your ok and that is what counts, I think we could have treated the glider a little better and got it out safe too. Oh, well as is always our stories are for entertainment and for teaching.

The blame can go all around. Alex started it with the banter and a bet. "I promise you'll get a flight", I took the bet cause I needed the exercise and winning a beer off Alex is always a good tasting one.

The wind did start to pick up and with AllanC updates from the boat ramp, I was looking forward to loosing the bet.

Blame can also go to those darn Alaskans that flew KNA on a crap day for 3 hours.

What it comes down to is listening to your gut. I was not enjoying the flight and when someone actually stated that sensor had gone from 68 to 86 degrees I went in.

Not that the angle had anything to do with your cravat but sometimes it is better to pack up and hike down. Of course most of us hate hiking down but it is a choice that no one should ever recieve critisim for.

JeffMc, hiked all the way to high launch at NAN, his first exploration to the top. He watched us all get off but was just not feeling it and he hiked down.

If your not feeling it, no matter how long it has been, which should also have been part of the decision process, just hike down.

May this encourage all pilots to do the same. Sometimes it is just not your day.

Gravity said...

Bummer about the wing. It's all my fault when I texted Thom and said "Don't land in the trees or water just to provide entertainment for Alex"


Thom said...

Ya, I read that test after I landed, Harvey almost splashed and then Hilo caught the tree.

so no more premonition texts !!!!

Gravity said...

Weird isn't it. I told Joey that the only way he was gonna get out of his last deployment was to break an arm or leg, and he broke both... Ugh!

Joey said...

Ya, Reaper has a way of speaking things into existence..

Ken - tough lesson learned at your expense. Thanks for sharing and glad your ok.

~ Joey

Bon Bon said...


So glad you are ok, that was our only concern.

It definitely was a weird day. As we were hiking up, the wind was picking up. The minute-to-minute reports from AllanC were nice, too.

I felt it turning off. I saw Harvey going in and I noticed I kept getting lower and lower (where I had been getting lift) and I got on the radio to you and said, "I'm going in, I think it's shutting off." Right when I landed I got on the radio and asked if I could run up and help you - hold your wing. You said, no, you were going to do a forward. I said, "I could hold your wing for you." You said it was ok. (It would have taken me quite some time to get up there - but AllanC and I were seriously considering it). By the time I started walking, you were off.

"He's in the air! He's in the air!"

Alex said: "he's dropping like a rock! What's wrong? Something's not right, something's not right!"

He was going down fast. I said, "he's got a cravat!" I got on the radio and said, "Ken - go straight to the beach, you have a cravat." (As if you didn't know either of those already). Thom and I SPRINTED towards the boat ramp. AllanC right behind. We thought for sure he was going in the water.

He was trying to go to the beach, and I knew that. As he got lower and lower, I said, "Ok, go to the boat ramp. Go to the boat ramp!"

As we reached the boat ramp, we saw the wing in the tree. I thought he was on the ground, I looked around and said, "where is he?" He was hanging, upside down, in the tree, like a little monkey - barely hanging on.

I know I could have and should have done more to help. When I knew he was ok, I wasn't sure what all I could do. So.... I took pictures, and contemplated with AllanC as to whether or not we should cancel fire (we assumed from the hundreds of people around that SOMEONE called them) or have them come help - just in case.

When Ken said he was getting dizzy and didn't know how much longer he could hold on - I knew it was getting tricky.

Well, here are some pictures and video - [not meant to haunt him]:

Anonymous said...

HiloKen: Thanks for the pics! I couldn't see the big grapefruit hanging from the tree. I must have gotten down by the time you got the camera......

I want to thank everyone for caring enough to come running.