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Paragliding crash, 10 July 2019 | Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

I was flying from the launch in Mürren, Switzerland. The wind on launch was calm, but the day’s conditions called for little thermic activity and moderate valley winds. Overall, not really any alarm bells. Other pilots in our group had already flown from Mürren, and there were many solo and tandem pilots flying in the valley. Around 10 minutes into the flight, we were flying approximately 500m over the valley floor and very near the western rock face of the valley. We flew over a bench in the rock approximately 40m wide. This bench was actually producing quite a lot of lift, so I made a few passes. I experienced a massive loss of control of my glider resulting in a crushingly hard impact with the rock wall. Miraculously, I was still conscious and the glider was flying. I was able to land normally. I packed up my gear and walked 5km to the train station, boarded a train back to Interlaken, and made my way to the hospital. The Incident: I think the initial trigger was a stall, but I could be wrong about that. I think the root cause was that I flew too far to my left over the bench and ended up in rotor from the updraft up the wall and over the edge of the bench. With only 50m over the bench, which tumbled down another 450m to the floor. I immediately prioritized two things: 1) Keeping the wing pointed away from the rock 2) Staying underneath the wing (ish) I remember thinking that if I recovered from the stall in a dive-surge only to impact the wall at full speed, then I would be worse off than before. After many oscillations, and multiple instances of the wing half-flying, I got a cravat in my right side wing tip which put me into a downward righthand spiral near terrain. Within one rotation I knew the impact was imminent and hit the rock on my back left side. The wing’s impact with the rock popped out the cravat, and it was fully inflated but facing the rock. I was able to apply gentle right-side brake, which turned it away from the rock and allowed me to land normally. Things I think I did well: 1) Not tossing my reserve. In the video, it’s easy to see that I reached for my reserve handle twice but decided both times not to throw. Even in the speed of the moment, I felt that relinquishing directional control in the fast upward-moving air at such a height would put me in an even more dangerous situation. The second time, I felt that I would end up slowly grating down the side of the rock face without any control ability. This one was a little more questionable because if I had lost consciousness without a reserve deployed, I would likely be dead. 2) At the last second before impact, I stopped fighting the spiral and weight-shifted to my right side and pulled massive right brake. This deepened the spiral but reduced my impact velocity. More importantly, it put my airbag between me and the rock. The seams on my harness airbag are completely blown out, so it did its job. Errors: 1) Path planning. I failed to recognize that the REASON I was experiencing good lift over the bench is that it was across from another valley that pours down from the Eiger and also in the lee of the main valley breeze. 2) Positioning. I had put myself in an impossible position in the event of an in-flight emergency. Too close to terrain to recover or maneuver. If the entire incident had played out in clear space, I’m confident I could have recovered stable flight. In addition, my specific positioning made the use of a reserve questionable. In clean air, even if unrecoverable, I could have thrown my reserve without hesitation. 3) I believe I was choking the wing during recovery instead of letting it fly out of the stall. My incorrect input led to a cascade of uncontrolled flight. Aftermath: I have a minor fracture of my L1 vertebra, but I’m mobile and load-bearing. I was discharged from the hospital the same day after 6 x-rays and a CT scan. I have lacerations and bruises on my left side. The backs of my heels are badly bruised so I’ve been walking like a kangaroo. No headaches or other concussion symptoms. My wing had multiple broken lines and about half the cells were shredded. My harness has multiple blown out seams from the air pressure in the airbag during impact. My helmet was split in half. My confidence is badly shaken. I didn’t fly the day after the incident, but I actually did fly the final three days of our trip on another wing I brought with me. Flying again so soon was intense, but my assessment of my mental status made me think that if I didn’t find a nice easy sledder quickly, I would choose never to fly again. I needed a reminder of what it is about flying that I love, and I definitely got that in my last three days in Annecy with my friends. --- This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact licensing@catersnews.com or +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615
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