From John Welch - 30/08/05
We've had 2 Coastguard rescues in a three-day period;
in one case the pilot was seriously injured, in the other the pilot escaped
uninjured (see reports here and here). Both of these pilots could easily have died and in both cases
it was due to pilots putting themselves on a lee side slope.
There is obviously something here that needs urgent addressing before we do have a fatality.
The most obvious explanation was that either the pilots didn't understand the effects of rotor, or were unaware that they were flying into it. I'm not going to dwell on what causes rotor; if you don't know you really need to be in a school environment. Not anticipating it is the result of the pilot not performing a proper site assessment, not thinking about which sections are lee side, not thinking about what a shift in wind direction might mean and finally, not exercising caution. Taking a bit more time and doing a little planning will go a long way to increasing your safety.
I think that an equally important contributory factor to many accidents (I'm not talking specifically about either of the pilots who had these lucky escapes) is pilot's failure to judge their own abilities. It can be difficult but it's important to be as objective as possible. Try asking yourself a few basic questions:
1. Is there something different; a new piece of equipment, an unfamiliar
site, or conditions that you're not used to? If something is new then
you must pull back and exercise greater caution.
2. Is your level of experience in keeping with the difficulty of the flights your making?
3. Are you executing decisions in a patient considered manner or do you frequently rush?
4. Finally, how many accidents or close calls have you had? Think carefully about this. Not all pilots should be flying in strong conditions, doing cross-country flights or long ridge runs. There are some who really need further instruction to even fly in relatively easy conditions safely. Unfortunately, there are a tiny number of pilots who simply are not suited to paragliding.
I'm not trying to spoil anybody's fun but we've got to do something about these accidents. They are totally avoidable and should never have happened. I hope that we can all learn from them and that there isn't a "next" time or we might find ourselves attending a funeral rather than sending get well cards.