Actually, I shared my story at last night’s NWPC monthly meeting. For those who missed the meeting, here’s what happened:
Sunday’s forecast for Rampart looked good and conditions on launch seemed OK. I flew for about a half-hour in soarable lift. The air was lively and I experienced a couple of minor closures prior to taking a large (50%+) closure. I was working a thermal with several others and was not doing acro.
Unlike any collapses I’ve experienced in the past, my glider (a DHV 2 wing) turned, dove and spun very rapidly. In a brief moment, I had somewhere between a 360 and 720 twist in my risers. I couldn’t immediately tell which end of my glider was forward and seeing the twist, I couldn’t be sure of the correct input. I tried not to make matters worse by using an incorrect input.
Following the initial collapse and spin, I experienced a brief moment of stability followed by some massive surges where the glider dove well below the horizon.
When the glider was above me, the twists were too high to reach above and untwist. At one point the risers untwisted but the glider quickly went into another spin/surge/dive. At this point I was very low, twisting and turning madly with a mid-sized cravat.
Later, I learned my vario showed a maximum descent rate of 3,445 fpm.
My decision to throw was, frankly, too late. I was very fortunate to have a good clean toss and a rapid opening. I was on the ground moments after feeling a terrific tug from the deployment. (I was hauling ass when it opened.) I crashed through some little Christmas-sized trees and came to rest comfortably sitting in my harness. My glider was draped over a small tree facing me and my reserve was draped over another small tree behind me. I noticed my D-bag laying less than ten feet away–confirming my late toss.
I was amazed (and relieved!) to be 100% OK. Not even a scratch and no damage to the gear. I radio’d my friends as quickly as I could and I stood up so others could see I was OK. I had landed in a clearing just NW of launch–about a five-minute walk from the paraglider launch. Dave Byrne and two PG pilots named Stephan drove over to help me gather my gear. (Their help was appreciated!)
If there was any humor in this event, it came while I was peeling off fleece and getting ready to gather up my kit. My reserve was still drapped over a tree and hooked to my harness. (My paraglider was unhooked.) The air had been absolutely still following my landing but a cycle came through and lifted my reserve up and out of this 10′ tree– harness still attached. I ran over and grabbed the harness just as it was taking off. Almost laughing at the prospect of losing my reserve and harness to the skies, I could only imagine how strange it would look to see a reserve and empty harness coring a thermal over launch!
1) Throw early. The danger of throwing too early is far less than the result of throwing too late. I was at about tree-top level when my reserve opened–not even enough time for a PLF.
2) Practice reaching for your reserve handle on every flight. (Fortunately, I had been doing this.) I found the handle on the first grab and had a good clean throw.
3) This whole incident could have (and should have) been avoided by (more) active piloting and correct, well-timed inputs. I thought I knew my glider (and my flying skills) better that I do.
I wanted to talk to some of the pilots who may have seen my collapse from the air before posting anything but I haven’t had time since Sunday to do so. I welcome comments and suggestions. If my description of the acro part of the flight seems a bit vague, well that may have been part of the problem. Others may be able to better describe what they saw.
By way of background, I am a P-4 rated pilot that has been flying for about a dozen years. I have around a thousand accident-free and incident-free flights, including XC flying in strong conditions. I haven’t done an advanced manuvers clinic. Food for thought…
Thanks and fly safe!