Thursday, July 7, 2011

2011 FAI PG World Championships - Piedrahita, Spain - No Fly Day

The mood in Piedrahita is a somber one.  At 10AM an open pilot meeting was held with pilots and Team Leaders to discuss their feelings about whether or not this competition should continue after the 2 fatalities and numerous reserve rides yesterday.  Conditions during the second task of the competition have been described as "level 1" (no hazards due to wind or turbulence) - in fact, the organizers, in a follow-up message called them "mild."  They went on to describe the incidents in a bit more detail -
In the first incident, the pilot was flying low along the ridge. The glider was seen to suffer a frontal collapse, horseshoe and fall in a stable parachutal stall. Close to the ground, the wing spun and the pilot impacted the ground. No reserve parachute was deployed.
In the second incident, the pilot was flying towards goal at altitude. The glider was seen to suffer a frontal collapse, immediately followed by a large cravat and high velocity spin. The reserve parachute was not deployed before the pilot impacted the ground.

The consensus expressed by the teams, even the Chilean and Argentine teams, was to continue to fly the comp. The Competition organizers and FAI officials, although refraining from making their decision until later this evening, must be very concerned that any additional events would be very detrimental to the sport and to the sportsmen and women participants. If a day with benign flying conditions can result in more than 6 situations requiring the use of the reserve parachute, how can the organizers contemplate tasking a day with more challenging weather? It's not an easy situation to evaluate due to the emotions of the moment and the liabilities of a less than conservative decision. Final decision should be made by Thursday noon PST.

In what I view as an interim band aid, there are considerations being made to "throttle back" the speed systems of the 2-liners to minimize the potential of collapse while on speed. Since yesterday's events occurred on more than one brand of wing, the problems appear, at first blush, to be systemic to the 2-liner design - A design that feels rock-solid until the wing goes away, but is unstable and unpredictable during attempts to recover to normal flight. It's been my observation that the pilots, with skills and experience on comp ships of the past, have the 'old-school' mindset that collapses can be flown away from, even at mid to low altitude - the way it was on prior wings. The evidence indicates that present-day 2-liner wings necessitate a willingness - a necessity even - to throw the reserve before the ineffective wrestling match.

Mads Sydergaard's comments are heartfelt and his explanation for leaving the comp but still fly the 2-liners shows the raw dichotomy of the situation. Things WILL change after this - it is a seminal moment. Maybe some good will come from this tragedy.

It's been a very sad week for Paragliding as a sport. Xavier Murillo is still missing in Peru and the loss of life in Spain necessitates consideration of the cancelling the World Championships.

I love this sport. It has allowed my eyes to view panoramas and experience joys that no other activity could. But this is a sad time.

Fly Safe,

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