Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The 1/6th Million Dollar Man

As many of you have heard, I had a paragliding accident mid November while buzzing close to the hill below the Manics Lookout. After twenty years of flying paragliders and 57 years of generally being risky in life, I got bit.

The basic cause of the accident was a little bit of bad conditions and a lot of pilot error. Conditions were switchy that day, from east, to light north and back to east. I hiked my acro wing over to Manics putting up streamers showing a light north flow, thinking I might get a little parapark action. A bunch of pilots were there including Matt and Marcel.

I launched into super light air and didn't find any lift, maybe it was east already, and landed on the rock by the edge. I hiked back up and did it again. Launching into the super light squirrelly flow, I committed to going right around the lookout. The terrain there isn't exactly a cliff, it is more like a wedding cake of little ledges. I wasn't going up and all the ledges were like ten feet to my right, I thought about landing but decided not to. On the right side of the lookout I started to climb a bit, I turned back to the left to get more of it and found mushy sinky air. I was travelling slightly downwind back toward the beach and settling down onto a relatively large ledge. At the moment I was about 5' off the ledge and mushing the acro glider down on the ledge, I wiggled in my split leg harness to stand upright. That wiggle put the glider in a stall starting from the right tip. The stall turned me 45 degrees to the right and flung me up at the sky as the glider fell behind. At this point I was basically just a passenger, I scorpioned my feet behind me, half expecting to ungracefully sit on the next ledge up. But I missed that ledge and proceeded to fall a long way, but in reality was likely less than ten feet.

I slammed my right thigh into the blocky gnarly cliff edge and flopped onto my back on the glass and rocky cliff ledge thirty feet below the lookout, my glider settled on the ledge behind me fortunately. I came to rest on the cliff edge on my right side looking off, feeling like my body molded to the cliff.

As a former firefighter and SAR guy, as well as being a paraglider, I am somewhat familiar with others in this predicament. A quick pain assessment told me I had a broken femur, broken ribs, broken clavicle on the right side. I thought of the most important thing was to wiggle my feet and they were moving and feeling fine. Experience has taught me that if you have movement at the time of accident you should be fine and if you don't have movement you are usually screwed. My radio was laying in front of my face and Reaper's voice came over asking if I was okay, I told him I wasn't. Sean on the lifeguard stand saw my crash and mobilized. The paragliders removed my gear, the lifeguards and fireman packaged me up and the helicopter flew me off the hill to the ambulance. In the whole process I knew almost everyone, my bro beer bill is huge at this time.

At Queens Hospital, with more people I know, they CAT scanned me and x-rayed me. A shattered femur, cracked T11 and L1 vertebrae, 5 broken ribs and a clavicle. My initial femur injury didn't appear so bad and the orthopedic told me they could put in a rod and some screws and have me back on my feet two hours after surgery that night, I remember thinking yeah I'll have that. But they later found I had shattered things up into my hip and it was a more messy surgery.

The worst possibly lasting trauma that day is from my wife, Kim, who was sitting on the beach below unaware. Serena took care of her, but that might be the most lasting trauma in this story.

The title of this story refers to my initial bill from Queens Hospital. For four nights stay, some CAT scans and X-Ray, and a femur surgery and grand total of $139k. Even though I am only on the hook for a couple of grand of it, I found that number pretty staggering as did my friends who work there.

The good news is that after a couple of months, I think I will emerge with minimal deficit. So I guess no lesson learned. I do realize how lucky I am, how things could have easily ended much worse, or how easily nothing could have happened like so many times in the past.

This brings me to another thought, while talking to paragliding friends, we talked about how many potentially life threatening situations we have walked away from over the years. It seems like everyone has a few 'remember that time' moments that could have been much worse. So I will just end by saying, stay aware when you end up in sketchy situations, try to avoid them or at best minimize them. Stay high!

The photo at the top of this article is from a landing two weeks prior to the accident.


Mike F said...

Glad you are Okay, Dave Will see you soon in the air.

Alex said...

That was quite a dramatic event to teach us a lesson, thanks Dave! Next time teach us with a close call. Thank you for the Christmas yarn. It has certainly been sleepy on our website for a while!

Gravity said...

Ya Dave good write up. Thanks for sharing. Remember the saying "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots"...
I'll share the videos of your rescue and your SARS guys when I see you.
Merry Christmas

Thom said...

Thanks Dave, Glad your OK, I got pretty sick hearing about it. Been there done that but if there's a bill at Queens was there.
Hopefully we all learn to not play to low, mother nature can bite.

Heal well, fast and carry on.

Waianae Jim said...

Hey Dave - Thanks for sharing your story & experience. Glad to hear your prognosis for recovery is good and shouldn't take too long. Hope to see you out winging it soon.

sandy said...

Dave, you are one of the most amazing and entertaining pilots I know. I'm pretty sure you're having even more fun doing it than we are watching, but please be careful! I hope Kim makes a full recovery (and you, too).