Full collapse at 500 feet
Type of Injury:
Highest rating held at the time of the incident:
Pilot experience level:
Model: Dudek Hadron 26m
Paramotor Frame: Walkerjet RR trike @ 135 lbs with
June 1, 2017
Location of the incident: ,
Type of Incident:
I was heading south from KLHM in Norcal towards the south @ ~500′, on a thermally afternoon @ 6:30 PM and was curious as to why I was experiencing so much sink that, even with trimmers all the way in, I still was adding ~600rpms more than normal to maintain altitude. I also flew through a good number of very “hard” thermals with rough “edges”.
I began to feel a strong flutter of the left wingtip and released (full into the wind) to see if it would self-correct without pressure. On releasing the left brake, the right wingtip also began to flutter, so I released both brakes in hopes of self-correction. As soon as I released both brakes, the wing suffered a full (b-line) collapse. At 450′, I had little time for hesitation and decided that attempts to reinflate the wing would be too risky, so deployed the reserve, which proceeded smoothly with everything performing as advertised.
I had no horizontal control and was descending @ 8-10mph (too small a reserve, ugh!) The wind began to carry me north … over some power lines, but not over a stately blue oak @ 3440 Moore Road that clearly desired an intimate encounter. I came to rest in a fork in the tree ~25′ over a barbed wire fence and “forest” of poison oak.
I was lucky on so many levels and walked away with only a few scratches and relatively minor equipment damage (save the wing). After several days reflection and analysis of this incident, I believe there were two contributing factors to the collapse.
The 1st was that the wing (subsequent to the accident) failed porosity testing, which suggests that its ability to maintain proper inflation was already compromised from the get-go (explaining the added power requirement.) This was (2nd) exacerbated by the unstable air, which I believe initiated the flutter as I passed over the “hard” thermal edge (i.e. up vs down threshold) and greatly contributed to the collapse.
I have spent the past few days 2nd-guessing my decision to deploy, but concluded that it was the right one. The fact that I walked away with so little damage to my body or equipment, despite the tree landing, which probably actually saved me from more serious injury from hitting the ground @ 10mph, is a testament to a correct call.
All in all, a huge learning experience! My advice after all this is, most important, that folks periodically check their wing porosity for airworthiness. The newer paragliders (e.g. Dudek, Ozone, Niviuk, etc.) are made from lighter materials that lose porosity more quickly than older, heavier wings or current wings from companies like Apco. Second is that never fly in winds that scare you or otherwise make flying overly challenging … unless of course, that’s your objective. The third is to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS carry a reserve and know how to use it. I’ve been mentally practicing a reserve deployment for 15 years and have them on all my machines. Saved my life!
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