2011-June-08) What's at stake when we go solo?
It seems innocuous. We find a nice flying site, maybe not easily
visible from the road, and launch into the coolness. This is one of
powered paragliding's great draws--how easily we can just head off from
the most unlikely of sites and be independent. But that
independence has a dark side--if something happens, we could wind up
being immobilized and unable to get help.
A recent accident saw this horrific possibility play out for a pilot
launching at an isolated field for a short flight around his local area.
Something went bad on launch and he wound up falling hard, maybe just
after getting airborne, and breaking his back and pelvis.
The injury left him unable to move or even get to his cell phone
which was in his pocket. He laid there for over 7 hours which caused
additional injury (sunburn blisters, dehydration) before being
discovered and transported to a hospital where he was operated on and
put in intensive care.
This is a terrible possibility that we've talked about for years but
frequently don't heed. Now it's happened in about the worst possible
way. What a bummer to survive your injuries only to die because you
couldn't get simple life-saving administered.
There have been other accidents where the pilot crashed in a remotish
area, was immobilized, but there happened to be a passerby who called
for help. The one where a pilot pummeled into pavement after
experiencing torque twist on launch comes to mind. We've previously
thought that having a cell phone with us was sufficient but now we know
better. Have the cell phone, but use it to let someone know you're going
flying, where, and when to start worrying if you don't call them.
The same applies at fly-ins or any other time you could be absent for
a while without anybody being aware.
Alex Varv was a proponent of this for years, always offering to take
calls whenever one of us would go flying alone and, sure enough, one day
his friend didn't call back. Sadly, that friend had crashed and died but
Alex was soon on the hunt. In this case it wouldn't have mattered but,
had the pilot been in a tree somewhere, at least people would have been
looking for him.
Another great option is satellite based personal locator beacons or
messengers, two different creatures described in the sidebar.
We can still enjoy the remarkable freedom of solo paramotoring but
should consider the simple benefit of letting someone know we're flying
and when we'll be back. They should know to start trying to reach us if
they don't hear from us within 30 minutes or so of our estimated return
time--kind of a personally administered flight plan.