2000 Paragliding Accident Summary

By Paul Klemond

Here is the annual summary of paragliding accidents reported to USHGA as occurring in the US last year (2000.) The purpose of this summary is to share both factual information and my interpretations to help pilots improve their decision-making, thereby preventing future accidents.

USHGA received 43 reports of accidents occurring last year. This is a typical number of reports. I estimate that only one in four accidents are reported.

Phase of Flight

Landing accidents continued to decline last year, while in-flight accidents were up dramatically. A lot of in-flight accidents involved losing control of the glider while either thermalling or while inducing maneuvers or aerobatics not under instructional supervision.

Here is a breakdown showing the phases of flight and their relative likelihood of resulting in an accident:

Phase

2000

1999

1998

Kiting

2%

8%

6%

Launching

20%

27%

23%

In-Flight

52%

27%

26%

Landing

25%

39%

45%

In the above table, kiting means the pilot is clipped in, does not intend to leave the ground, and is lifted or dragged by wind. Launching accidents include any accidents where the pilot intentionally initiates a launch but has an accident before stablizing in flight. Relevant factors often include marginal conditions in which flight should not have been attempted, the pilot using his or her hands to get settled in the harness instead of piloting, and incorrect pilot input to prevent loss of control. Marginal conditions are often but not always detectable on launch, and were a factor in at least 20% (1 out of every 5) reported incidents.

In-Flight accidents occur after the pilot has launched successfully, did not intend to land, but lost control of the paraglider during flight. Common factors include turbulence-induced collapses and aerobatics or maneuvers such as b-line stalls.

Landing accidents occur after the pilot has decided to land. The most common factors in landing accidents last year was hazardous terrain obstacles, turbulence in the landing zone, and poor flight planning resulting in a forced landing in an unsafe area.

Nature of Injuries

Here is a breakdown showing the nature of injuries sustained in reported accidents:


2000

1999

1998

Injury

Qty

%

Qty

%

Qty

%

Back

12

38%

12

29%

5

23%

Ankle

7

22%

7

17%

4

18%

Foot

5

16%

7

17%

5

23%

Pelvis

4

13%

3

7%

3

14%

Knee

2

6%

4

10%

2

9%

Arm

2

6%

3

7%

5

23%

Note that in some accidents the pilot sustained more than one of these types of injury. Back and pelvis continue to be among the most common and most severe injuries reported. Several non-injury incident reports indicated that foam back-protectors helped avoid serious back and/or pelvis injuries.

Ankle, foot and knee injuries remain common. Several such reports indicate that overweight pilots and tandem passengers may be at greater risk for ankle injuries during launching, landing, and landing following a reserve deployment.

Qualifications of Injured Pilots

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

Rating

2000

1999

1998


Inc.

Pop.

Inc.

Pop.

Inc.

Pop.

No Rating

16%


6%


N/A


Beginner (P1)

9%

723

17%


5%


Novice (P2)

25%

659

29%


39%


Intermediate (P3)

23%

338

11%


27%


Advanced (P4)

23%


11%


25%


Master (P5)

7%


3%


4%


A startling number of reports last year involved "self-trained" pilots with no ratings. All of these victims were men who obtained equipment and chose to avoid instruction. Most if not all were approached by USHGA members and advised to seek instruction before their accidents. While paragliding is legal without any training or ratings, the accident rates prove that instruction from qualified USHGA instructors improves safety and reduces the likelihood of accidents. If you have the nerve, it may help to approach a "self-trained" pilot and advise them of their increased risk of injury.

Fatalities

We were very fortunate to have had only one fatality again last season:

Year

# of Fatalities

2000

1

1999

1

1998

4

1997

4

1996

4

The one fatality last year involved a novice pilot "scratching" for thermals at a low altitude (~150 feet) on the lee-side of a ridge. Turbulence collapsed 50% of the wing leading to a loss of control and impact with the ridge.

Factors (Causes)

Many accidents are attributable not to one specific cause but to a number of contributing factors. Here is a summary of factors involved in the accidents reported in 2000. It is difficult to identify all relevant factors for most accidents, therefore the numbers below should be viewed as minimums:

Factor

2000

1999

1998


Cases

%

Cases

%

Cases

%

Collapse

16

47%

12

25%

6

19%

Strong Thermals

14

41%

12

25%

4

13%

Equipment Maint./Prep.

8

24%





Flight Plan Failure

8

24%

6

13%

2

6%

Marginal Conditions

7

21%

10

21%

5

16%

Instruction

6

18%

2

4%

8

26%

360 Close to Terrain

4

12%





Ridge Soaring

3

9%

11

23%

2

6%

Mid-Air Collision

3

9%

0

0%

1

3%

Aerobatics

2

6%

2

4%

3

10%

Comp Wing

2

6%

4

8%

3

10%

Leg Straps Unbuckled

2

6%





Maneuvers - Induced

2

6%





Trim Tabs / speedbar

2

6%





Illegal - No Visibility

2

6%





Tangled Lines

1

3%

2

4%

1

3%

Dragged

0

0%

3

6%

2

6%

Tandem Accidents

Four tandem accidents were reported in 2000, versus eight in 1999 and four in 1998. There were no tandem-related fatalities. One tandem accident did require deployment of the reserve parachute.

Instructors

Instructors as a group continued to show strong improvement in accident reporting in 1999. This is especially important since few students are familiar enough with the USHGA to even know that accidents should be reported, much less how to report them. Just a reminder to instructors: ICP administrators do not have access to accident reports. So please report your accidents to help us identify ways to improve the instructor program for everyone.

Please Report Your Accident

If you have or witness a paragliding accident, or even just an "incident" that others could learn from, please take a few minutes and report it to USHGA. All reports are anonymous. There are no risks or consequences for submitting a report.

Paul Klemond has been the volunteer chair of the USHGA Paragliding Accident Committee for three years. Starting this year (2001), Steve Roti will be taking over this role. 


Piloting Tips

Many ideas, tips and tidbits of advice flow throughout the paragliding community. Some are obviously useful and some we question or disregard. Here are some that you can bank on, because each of these is a lesson learned from more than one actual accident last year:

  • Foam back protectors are saving butts -- and vertebrae and physical therapy bills too. They don't prevent all back injuries but they do prevent some.
  • Dead radio batteries really do contribute to injuries by failing to help prevent accidents with timely critical advice.
  • Good hang glider pilots don't automatically know how to paraglide. Swallow your pride and go get some lessons.
  • Wingovers at high altitude risk a reserve ride. Low wingovers risk fractures, paralysis and death. Everyone who does this thinks they're a good enough pilot.
  • Don't count on 911 in rural areas. Learn the phone number and/or radio frequency for the med-evac rescue squad nearest to the flying site before you fly.
  • Sooner or later, your wing will show you some very unfamiliar possibly violent behavior, and it could injure or kill you. I strongly encourage attending qualified instructors' maneuvers clinics. (Other respectable opinions discourage this. You decide.)
  • When you need to find a thermal, you can get away with ridge soaring and doing 360's close to the terrain (say less than 300 feet.) When you get the thermal, it's thrilling and cool and seemed necessary, but sooner or later, this behavior really will probably injure or kill you. Stay away from the terrain while you hunt for lift. Low is for landing, not scratching.
  • You're more likely to think more clearly and make better contingency plans and decisions right now when things are fine.
  • Keep striving to better understand what people mean by the words "active piloting."

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