Fatal Turbulence and Collapse
Analysis of fatal paramotor crash involving turbulence and its
A fellow lover of flight went out one day to pursue his passion. He did not
return—an incredible tragedy for the loved ones he leaves behind. We can only hope to learn from this tragedy and help those of us
willing to heed its lessons.
On a moderately windy evening, not long before sunset, this pilot launched, probably to check out the air. It's
something I've done many times before, including once at Monument
Valley where it turned out to be extremely turbulent aloft. I will now
think harder before just "trying the air."
By all accounts the reasonably conscientious pilot wasn't afraid to
land if conditions were sporty. Unfortunately, he was willing to
launch in marginal conditions to "check it out." He got into turbulence
and decided to shut off the motor. The wing surged forward and one side
collapsed, causing an immediate and rapidly increasing spiral. Although
the collapse was coming out, it was too late. The investigators didn't
think a reserve would have made any difference but there have been
successful deployments as low as 100 feet so it's hard to say.
He had not likely developed active flying
techniques since most of his plentiful experience was in generally
smooth conditions. Active flying skills are like any other, comprised of
reactions that must be practiced enough to become automatic. Such
reactions come only through flying in turbulence which, of course, is
Anyone who does not
regularly fly in turbulence will almost certainly not possess the
reactions required to handle strong turbulence. The idea is that you
must become accomplished at light to moderate turbulence before having
appropriate reactions. Problem is, moderate turbulence is a stone's
throw from it's deadly daddy, strong turbulence.
Flying in strong turbulence is extremely risky
so you're better off, from an overall risk perspective, avoiding
Yes, I realize not all turbulence is created equal, but unless you're
comfortable differentiating between deadly and doable, our history
suggests staying out of strong conditions, especially where there's a
possibility for mechanical turbulence.
Also, taking a maneuvers clinic or receiving instruction in active
flying, while valuable, will not equip you for really rough
conditions. They are merely the basics to get you handling moderate
bumps where only time and practice will instill the necessary reactions.
What If I'm Surprised by Turbulence?
If you are not well acquainted with active flying skills and
find yourself in turbulence, be smooth on power changes, and reduce to a
constant brake pressure -- allowing the brakes to float up and down
while maintaining constant pressure. If the wing surges forward this
will automatically incur lots of brake travel while maintaining
the same brake pressure.
For more on the topic see also
Chapter 19, Emergencies: Handling Wing Collapses
Going to a maneuvers clinic is quite valuable as long as it doesn't
instill a false security. Such confidence, as this accident so sadly
shows, is terribly misplaced. But having going through the recovery of
various upsets will improve your odds when surprises happen.
Here is the full and very
thorough accident investigation report as a PDF.