Return to the incident list: Incident List Un forecast gust front resulted in wing collapse and pilot fatality. PPG Type: Foot Launch – Single Occupant Type of Injury: Fatality
Age: 65 Weight: Gender: Male Highest rating held at the time of the incident: Advanced – PPG 3 Pilot experience level: 50+ hours
Wing Brand: Model: Size: Paramotor Frame: with Vittorazi Atom 80
September 3, 2022 8:00 AM Location of the incident: Albuquerque, New Mexico Type of Incident: Gust Front
Incident pilot departed his home field (Paramotor City near Albuquerque NM) at approximately 7:30 AM on September 3rd 2022 in his foot launched Powered Paraglider (PPG). Winds were light out of the North/Northeast and forecast to remain flyable for several hours.
Two ground witnesses observed a normal takeoff. Witness #1 then departed the field in his vehicle due to a mechanical issue with his PPG. Witness #2, who lives at the field, went back inside. No other pilots were flying that morning.
Approximately 30-60 minutes later Witness #2 noticed the winds started gusting well in excess of 20 mph.
When the incident pilot did not return to the flying field, witness #2 got in his truck to search for him.
Witness #2 found the incident pilot deceased several miles north of the field. The PPG cage was extensively damaged and the wing wrapped around the cage and prop. Two impact marks were noted approximately 50 ft apart coming from a southeast direction with no drag marks in between.
A review of historical weather data showed gusty winds were not forecast for that morning. It is unknown if the incident pilot had obtained any type of weather briefing prior to the incident flight.
The incident pilot departed the field at approximately 7:30 AM. Winds were light out of the North/Northeast and forecast to remain flyable for several hours.
Approximately 30 minutes prior to the estimated takeoff time, an airport 18 miles ESE of the flying field (KABQ) began reporting winds gusting to 18 kts. At the estimated takeoff time they were reported to be gusting to 30 kts. Maximum winds that morning were reported as 26 kts steady with gusts as high as 35 kts. An AWOS Observation at an airport 11 miles NE of the field (KAEG) showed winds calm at the estimated takeoff time and gusting to 11 kts one hour later. Later observations showed winds of 17 kts steady with gusts to 21 kts at 9:47 AM local. It should be noted observations at this site are only taken once per hour at the estimated takeoff time. The Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) was updated at 7:37 AM due to the un-forecast wind gusts. Both observation sites showed winds decreasing later in the morning.
Because of the unusual un-forecast winds, the investigator requested help from the local National Weather Service (NWS) office to review the weather that day. (See attached report)
Investigation by the NWS revealed a rare, little known weather event had occurred. Overnight a group of thunderstorms had developed and dissipated approximately 180 miles east of the flying field. As is typical, a gust front developed from the dissipating storms. These gust fronts normally extend for 10’s of miles before dying out. In this case however the gust front, aided by the prevailing winds out of the east, traveled over 180 miles to the incident location. A review of weather data from a reporting station 72 miles east of the flying field (KCQC) showed the wind gusting to 20 kts at 6:30 AM. Another station 53 miles east (K0E0) showed winds gusting to 22 kts at 7:35 AM.
The exact mechanism for these long traveling gust fronts is not known but they do appear to be sustained by prevailing winds. One other known example of this type of weather event was reported to have occurred at the Great Plains Balloon Race of 1997.
30 miles east of the flying field is a canyon (Tijeras Canyon) flanked by mountain ranges extending to the north and south. This gap in the mountains is known for generating high wind events. When there is a high-pressure area east of the canyon, it acts as a venturi, accelerating the winds through the canyon and into the city.
When the thunderstorm generated winds hit this canyon on the incident morning the already strong winds were accelerated with reported gusts as high as 35 kts at KABQ.
Additionally, the flying site is located in a shallow north-south oriented valley, several miles wide with a steep 600-foot escarpment of rough terrain on the east side. The incident pilot was found towards the east side of the valley. It’s likely a westward moving gust front would result in increased turbulence downwind of the escarpment where the incident pilot was flying.
Incident pilot earned his PPG2 wheel launch rating along with his PPG3 foot launch rating in April of 2015. Total flight time is unknown but he was highly regarded as one of the more experienced pilots at the field.
The Office of the Medical Examiner did not respond to the investigator’s request for an autopsy report. Witness reports suggest both legs were broken by impact.
The investigator was not granted access to the equipment or any inflight tracking instruments that may have been available. (The deceased was not known to carry any data trackers.)
Limited pictures of the equipment in the back of a truck were reviewed but no conclusions could be drawn from them. From the pictures it was determined the paramotor was a Vittorazi Atom 80
It was reported that the incident pilot did not fly with a reserve parachute because he said he typically flew too low for it to be useful.
If altitude and time permit, a drag type reserve parachute (for example, G-lite, Shine, Mayday, Diamond Cross, Yeti UL or Fluid to name a few) may mitigate injury in similar situations. While they can still suffer from oscillations in turbulent conditions, they are less likely to collapse and tangle with themselves and equipment than gliding type of reserve parachutes.
It was determined that the incident pilot was caught in a strong, un-forecast wind event which led to a collapse of his canopy and fatal impact with the ground. Local terrain may have exacerbated the wind event.
- If conditions suggest a thunderstorm induced gust front as described in this report is possible, pilots should make a final wind check from observation sites far upwind of their location prior to takeoff.
- Pilots should be aware of local terrain and how it may influence gusty, turbulent air
- The USPPA instructional syllabus should include information on conditions that could generate these long duration gust fronts and weather analysis strategies which could detect them, such as those recommended in the attached NWS briefing.
- Pilots should examine their preferred flying conditions and technique and determine if the addition of a reserve parachute could mitigate unforeseen conditions that might develop.
Flight Window: Morning Wind Speed: Very Strong Wind (15+ mph) Type: Gust Front Phase of Flight: Cruise/In Flight Type of Injury: Fatality Collateral Damage: None Analysis of the incident (additional input by the incident investigation team): Photos (if available):
Video (if available):
Other Files (if available): https://usppa.org/frm_file/aWQ6MTAxNDV8ZmlsZW5hbWU6V3hTdXBwb3J0Rm9yUGFyYWdsaWRlcnMucGRm
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