I was recently teaching a beginners course and some of the students had questions about injuries, specifically, what kind of injuries will “ground” you from flying. I thought it was a good question, and it got me thinking. In my 8 years of flying, I’ve only had a handful of times that I was “grounded” from flying due to injury or illness. I want to share some of them with you.
Lower body injuries
I think lower body injuries are most detrimental to foot launch pilots because our legs are landing gear, and if we can’t run, we can’t launch or land very well. I’ve been grounded before due to simple soreness from working out too hard or stretching a muscle. A twisted ankle, broken toes, or almost any other combination of lower-body injury is likely to ground foot launch pilots. Luckily, if you fly with wheels, you can still fly pretty easily despite any lower body injuries. Several foot launch pilots have learned to transition to wheel launch flying before/during/after injuries or procedures that will affect their lower body.
Upper body injuries
Upper body injuries are interesting because some will affect our ability to pilot the paraglider while others will not. If you have an injury that prevents you from being able to lift your arm high or from using force to pull down on the break toggles, you’ll probably be grounded until you recover. However, if you have an injury that prevents you from being able to exert force upwards (like lifting weight), but you can still pull force down, then you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you can still fly.
A couple of years ago, I separated my shoulder from a fall on the onewheel. At first, I thought I had broken my collarbone because I could feel the bone sticking up when I reached to touch it. I went to the emergency room and confirmed that it was not broken, only separated (the tendons separated from the bone). Aside from the pain, my biggest concern was that I had a big trip coming up where I was planning to take my mom up for a tandem flight in Moab. I was concerned about my ability to fly, and I didn’t want to miss out on this exciting opportunity I had to fly with my mom (it would be her first flight).
When I got home from the hospital, with my arm in a sling and a lot of pain in my shoulder, I started researching the injury and learning all about the recovery times and recommended exercises to help with recovery. In one of the videos I watched (video shared below), I was surprised to see a rock climber mention that he could quickly get back into rock climbing because the injury didn’t prevent his ability to exert force downward; it only prevented him from being able to lift the weight upward. I immediately felt motivated to strengthen my arm and shoulder so I could still plan on flying with my mom. I had 30 days till the Moab trip and was determined to be ready.
I followed the rehab protocol mentioned in the video the next day after the injury. It was difficult to lift my arm, but once it was up, I was pleased to discover that I still had all the strength needed to pull down (the only movement I needed to fly safely).
As the day got closer, my confidence grew, and I knew it would be possible. After careful consideration and several test flights to ensure I had full strength in my arms to fly safely, I decided it was safe to take her up. Almost 30 days after the injury, I was able to take my mom up for her first tandem flight in Moab, and it felt amazing!
I recognize that some injuries will definitely “ground you” from flying, and I recommend you consult your doctor before you make any decisions about flying after an injury. I only want to share my story in case you are in a situation like I was and you’re worried that you will be grounded from flying. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that your injury prevents other movements, but it doesn’t affect your ability to fly a paraglider!
- September 7, 2021 – The day I was injured.
- September 15, 2021 – I can barely lift my arm enough to reach the brake toggles after daily rehab.
- October 2, 2021 – We arrive in Moab. Mom gets her first tandem flight! 25 days after the injury!
On May 23th between 7:10 and 7:20 PM at 355 Gum Tree Road, Coatesville PA, while flying his paramotor Henry “Clay” Baldwin impacted the ground first and subsequently a fencepost for a split rail wooden fence. He was hospitalized and placed on life support that evening.
On Sunday May 25’th, Clay was declared “brain-dead” with no chance of recovery and his wife Lisa made the decision to remove life support and he passed away 16 minutes later.
Clay was 55 years old, 160lbs, flying an Ozone Spyder 3 24M purchased in March 2020, and a Parajet Maverick Moster 185 purchased in January 2020.
Clay, from Coatesville PA, trained over 10 days Feb 7-17 2020 to the PPG 2 level and following the PPG2 syllabus in Wauchula Florida with 5 other students as part of a joint class between One Up Adventures, FlyMI PPG, and Paratour. His instructors were Kyle Mooney, Eric DuFour, Mike Cotter, Justin Fox, and myself. All are USPPA certified instructors with the exception of Mike Cotter. Although Clay met all practical and knowledge standards for PPG2, he chose not to pursue the rating.
Eyewitness accounts (which were relayed to me by his wife on the phone) described Clay as doing low to ground steep maneuvers before he made impact. After ground impact the remaining inertia carried him into a fencepost (see damage to cage hoop)
Tucker Gott graciously picked up his gear from Clay’s wife this past Thursday after the State Police released it back to her after their investigation. Tucker sent me photos, which I have attached below, and Tucker will be shipping the gear down to me this week.
Based on the photos, the engine was running at the time of impact (prop damage), and there is no indication of any pre-impact failures of the gear. I will inspect it again when it arrives here.
The weather history for that day in Coatesville can be seen here https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/us/pa/coatesville/KMQS/date/2020-5-23
Clay was wearing a go pro, however the State Police reported that there was no video of the incident contained on the SD card.
I can only estimate that Clay has around 80 flights before the incident, his wife reports that he flew 2-3 times a day when weather was favorable. After his training in Wauchula, he had returned to Lake Wales in early March to get a few flights with me instructing him for his first few flights on his new Spyder 3 (his original glider was a Mojo PWR medium). During that time I observed and discussed with him the danger of him fly low while downwind. Clay always respected the training regimen.
Clay was also a volunteer throughout the Florida Fun Fest event in Palm Bay, FL.
Throughout the Covid period Clay had relayed a video to me via text of him doing low to ground steep maneuvers at home in Coatesville. I called and discussed with him the danger of those types of maneuvers, especially for his experience level, and convinced him to come back down to Florida for some intermediate training in early June which he agreed to do. I found out he had also sent video to at least one other student in his February class, who told him “you’re going to die if you don’t start slowing things down.”
I don’t know if weather played a factor, but may have as the weather history that day indicates light winds with 0 gusts until 7:15 PM when suddenly the gusts went from 0 to 14 MPH, and then gusts of 20 mph at the next observation at 7:35 PM. Conditions around the time of the incident were reported as fair to partly cloudy, winds variable at 7 gust 14, Temp 73, DP 64.
Clay was wearing a helmet and his wife reports it appears undamaged.
Cause of death was determined to be traumatic brain injury. I should note also that Clay had two past traumatic brain injuries during his life, the most recent 2.5 years prior.
Rich Greenwood, a trained accident investigator, took on the task of uncovering as much detail as possible on an unusual fatal crash that involved an in-flight break up. He was helped by Michael Pohlman. We paid for the metallurgic testing but these folks donated time and expertise. Download the whole report PDF here for pictures and detailed descriptions from all available witnesses. Accident Investigation Team
The Mishap Flight (MF) was a three-ship recreational flight of wheeled Powered Paragliders (PPGs) consisting of the Mishap Pilot (MP), Wingman 1 (WM1) and Wingman 2 (WM2) operating under Title 14 Chapter I Subchapter F Part 103.
The MF departed Gator airfield (3FD4) at approximately 6:45 AM on 29 July 2019 and headed Northeast. During the flight, the MF decided to fly over a friend’s house, Ground Observer 1 (GO1), who was another PPG owner/operator. The MF arrived over Lake Beauclair at approximately 7:20 AM at 1500 feet AGL. The MP texted GO1 that they were approaching his house. GO1 and his friend, Ground Observer 2, (GO2, was not a PPG pilot) then went outside to watch. GO1 requested that the MP “get low over us” via text.
WM1 was ahead of the MP and WM2 was slightly behind.
Witness statements indicate the Mishap Aircraft (MA) then began a very aggressive right-hand turn, so aggressive it was disconcerting to both WM2 and GO1. (The initial turn was not observed by WM1) After about 1 and ¾ turns GO1 and GO2 saw the wing collapse, a “dark object” fly off, and the reserve open. (GO1 described it as the reserve while GO2 said something “white” which was the color of the reserve.
The dark object was later determined to be the MP in the front part of the MA.) WM2 reported seeing the MA in a spiral and then the wing “split in half” but did not see the “dark object” fly off. WM2 radioed to WM1 that the MP was in trouble.
WM2 watched the reserve parachute and began a descent to follow it as it landed in the water, after which he turned on his video camera. While circling the debris field with the reserve parachute, WM2 noted a secondary debris field in the water about 750 feet northeast of the first. When circling the second debris field, WM2 noted the MP’s head and shoulders under the water. He and WM1 then proceeded to land at a golf course near GO1 and GO2. Meanwhile, GO2, seeing the events, called 911.
The Sheriff’s office responded and approximately 3 hours later the MP and the wreckage were pulled from the water. The MP received fatal injuries during the event.
The following recommendations were listed in the report and are included here for convenience.
- The USPPA and instructors should include in their training syllabus the hazard of overstressing equipment, both airframe and wings, when discussing steep spirals.
- Pilots who choose to fly with a reserve parachute should contact the manufacturer with regards to their recommendations on reserve parachute installation. The installation should consider the airframe failure noted in this report.
- Pilots should carefully consider their type and location of flying and the possible consequences of the decision to deactivate the automatic activation feature of floatation devices.
- Pilots should understand that there is no guarantee of any load carrying capabilities when flying non-certificated equipment.
- Pilots should read, understand and adhere to all manufacturer’s instructions when purchasing, assembling and installing any aftermarket equipment.
- The USPPA and instructors should include in their training syllabus a review of the information in Advisor Circular 103-7, with emphasis on Para 4a.