1998 Paragliding Accident Summary

By Paul Klemond

Here is a summary of the paragliding accidents reported in 1998. The purpose of this summary is to share factual information and interpretations that will help pilots improve their decision-making to prevent future accidents.

According to the most recent membership survey, five out of six paragliding accidents in 1998 were never reported. We need you to start sending in a report of your accident or incident, or one that you witnessed. Reports are vital if we are to learn from these experiences, improve our practices, and avoid future incidents.

USHGA received reports for 31 accidents that resulted in injury or fatality, and 4 non-injury incidents occurring in the USA during 1998. This is a small number that probably hurts the accuracy of the numbers in this summary.

Phase of Flight

Here is a breakdown of the 29 accidents showing the proportion that occurred in each phase of flight:

Kiting6%
Launching23%
In-Flight26%
Landing45%

Kiting accidents are those in which the pilot is clipped in but does not intend to leave the ground. These usually involve unintended takeoff while kiting on a slope, or the pilot falling and being dragged.

Launching accidents are any accidents where the pilot initiates a launch but does not leave the ground, or where the pilot does leave the ground but has an accident within 10 seconds, more or less. The most common launch accident was a collapse during or immediately after takeoff. There are two causes: marginal conditions in which flight should not have been attempted, and incorrect or insufficient piloting input to prevent loss of control. Marginal conditions are sometimes detectable on launch, and were a factor in 16% (1 out of every 6) accidents.

In-Flight accidents are those in which the pilot launched successfully and did not intend to land, but lost control of the paraglider during flight. Possible causes or factors include: aerobatics, collapses, fog, mid-air collision, and more. Aerobatics were a factor in 10% of this year’s accidents, including 1 fatality. Reserve deployments nearly always happen in-flight (as opposed to during launching or landing.) There were 2 deployments reported this year. There were many deployments that were not reported, though they are still very uncommon.

Landing accidents involve any situation in which the pilot has decided to land, and the intended landing is imminent. Pilot error is the number one cause or factor in landing accidents, but other common causes and factors include low-level turbulence and hazardous terrain obstacles. Landing accidents also include top-landings and situations where the pilot loses the ability to land in an intended LZ and is forced to land in an unplanned location.

Nature of Injuries

Here is a breakdown showing the nature of injuries sustained in all paragliding accidents. Note that in some accidents the pilot sustained more than one of these types of injury.

Head0%
Arm14%
Back14%
Pelvis9%
Thigh6%
Knee9%
Tib/Fib3%
Ankle 14%
Foot14%
Fatal11%
Other6%

Qualifications of Injured Pilots

Pilots of all skill levels are injured in accidents every year. Here is this year’s breakdown by rating:

RatingAccidentsPopulation
Student6%N/A
Beginner (P1)17%5%
Novice (P2)29%39%
Intermediate (P3)11%27%
Advanced (P4)11%25%
Master (P5)3%4%
Tandem Instr. (T3)14%N/A
Unrated/Unknown3%N/A

Keep in mind that very few pilots reported their accidents, so the above data may be skewed such that pilots at certain levels of experience may be more or less likely to report their accidents. For example, beginners may or may not know that accidents should be reported. The opposite skew is also possible, at all rating levels.

Instruction

26% of reported accidents occurred during instruction. These accidents occurred during all phases of flight, and shared most of the same preventable causes as non-instruction accidents.

Many known accidents that occurred during instruction were not reported. Instructors must realize the following:

    • ICP administrators do not have access to accident reports;
    • Few or no students are familiar enough with the USHGA to even know that accidents should be reported, much less how to report them;
    • Even an anonymous accident report is better than no report at all;
    • Reporting accidents is vital to USHGA for identifying and correcting deficiencies in the paragliding instruction program.

Fatalities

Four known paragliding fatalities occurred in the US in 1998. This rate has remained flat over the past couple of years, during a period of significant growth in participation.

Two of the four fatalities were advanced pilots flying competition gliders, also consistent with past years. The decision to fly a competition glider remains the single most significant factor in preventable paragliding fatalities.

One fatality involved a low-altitude mid-air collision at a ridge-soaring site.

Fatalities by year:

19984
19974
19964
19952
19941
19936
19923
19914
19901

(Special thanks to Steve Roti for keeping track of this data for many years.)

Tandem Accidents

Five tandem accidents were reported in the US last year. Two of these injured only the passenger, two injured only the pilot, and one injured both pilot and passenger. All reported tandem injuries required hospital visits.

1998 saw the first known deployment of a reserve parachute in a tandem emergency. This occurred on a T1 training flight. Pilot sustained a minor cut. Passenger (Instructor) was unharmed.

Tandem pilot certification requires an Advanced or Master rating. Tandem paragliding is in general more difficult than flying solo.

Room for Improvement

In my very subjective opinion and after reading all of the reports several times, I conclude that pilot error played some part in at least 77% (24 of the 31) reported accidents. This is only useful for telling us that should be able to greatly reduce the number of accidents that occur in this sport each year. Learning from experience is critical.

This accident reporting program is critical for learning from experience. Everyone would like to see more useful information. For example, we should be comparing our accident rates to those of other countries, and learning from the safest programs.

This is a volunteer-run program. If you would like to volunteer, please contact the USHGA at 1-719-632-8300.

Paul Klemond is the volunteer chair of the USHGA Paragliding Accident Committee.

© Copyright 1999 Paul Klemond, pkushga@kurious.org.

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