Paramotor Safety

Powered Paragliding Fatalities

2010-04-01 Thanks to Mike Nowland whose 2005 compilation was used and to Steve Scruton on UK fatalities.

See also Steep Powered Paragliding on Spirals and Wingovers.

Staying alive while paramotoring is made easier by following this advice. Overall, the risk can be made extremely small.

Most accidents happen for predictable and preventable causes. Avoid them. Water, steep maneuvering, especially near the ground, and turbulence are big risks in that order. If water landing is a possibility, carry floatation (like Agama). If you fly where turbulence is a possibility, carry a reserve AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT! But don't think that carrying a reserve makes turbulence safe -- most turbulence-related fatalities happened below safe deployment height. All the turbulence related fatalities happened in air the pilot knew was likely to be turbulent. One more thing: wear a helmet, that would have prevented at least one fatality.

We don't address the largest cause of serious injuries: prop strikes. That's because, so far, they have proven survivable albeit with sometimes permanent disability.

Training

Yes, I'm afraid training is risky. Self training is worse although, since most of those probably don't get airborne, it's not as lethal unless he gets airborne. We don't always hear of the fatalities that relate to truck towing--when some bubba gets a paraglider on eBay, ties himself to a truck and tells his buddy to punch it. That rarely goes well.

Much of my drive to improve training methods (i.e. use of the USPPA syllabus) stems from this sad fact. We can never eliminate the risk, but some of these can easily be avoided by changing common practice.

1996, New York, Solo Student with less than 5 flights is practicing flying. The instructor was working with at least two students at the time when he noticed one of them spinning from several hundred feet. It was late morning with probably level 2 or 3 level turbulence. He spun into trees then fell to his death. Probable cause: excessive brake that caused the glider to spin. Turbulence alone doesn't cause spins—heavy braking does.

2006, Student under tow using a turn-around pulley. Gets off line. Instructor commands a turn while letting off the tow pull but it was too late. The student locked out and hit hard.

2015, Student on 30th flight got into an oscillation and didn't respond to instruction.

Steep Maneuvering

1996, France, Experienced pilot with probably several hundred flights.
  Pilot suffered a collapse and spin without enough altitude to recover. He was on a competition wing which aggravates matters since its long, skinny wings are more likely to fold up and more finicky in the recovery.

2001, Toledo, Ohio, Experienced pilot with several hundred flights.
  Wally Shilts was known to do frequently steep maneuvering and, on one particularly aggressive wing over, he went loose on the lines then didn't have enough altitude to complete the recovery. He ended up hitting the ground. He was flying mid-day so its likely that turbulence could have been a factor.

2010, Galveston, Texas, Experienced pilot doing steep spirals.
  Mike Larronde liked steep, but not usually nose-over (vertical), spirals with a low recovery. While doing this with a different wing than normal, he got into a steeper-than-normal and never recovered, hitting the water with fatal forces. He had no reserve and was not wearing a helmet. We can't say whether the reserve or helmet had anything to do with its outcome. Certainly a reserve would need to be deployed high enough to act.

Table below originally compiled by Mike Nowland, updated by Jeff Goin.

Accidents list causal factors in the order of relevance. For example, a motor failure may be the primary causal factor but, if it caused a fatal accident there was also a handling error. A PPG is so slow that any normal landing speed will almost never cause fatal injuries. Same is true with turbulence. It's possible that a pilot could be hit with mother nature's fury without warning, but darned unlikely--usually the air was known to be bumpy.

Code

Causal Factor

  Skill Level  

SM
Wa
T

Ha
Mid
Col
O
MF

UN

Steep Maneuvering
Water
Turbulence
Handling Error
Midair
Collision (wires, trees, etc.)
Other
Motor Failure

Unkown: no witness, video, or sufficient physical evidence

  StSup

St
PPG1
PPG2
PPG3
I

Student, supervised by Instructor

Student, not being supervised
Learning but with at least 2 unassisted flights.
Fairly skilled and at least 25 unassisted flights.
Highly skilled and at least 100 unassisted flights.
Skill varies but usually is high PPG2 or PPG3.

 

 

     

 

Name, Location Cause Causes Year
Unknown,

NY

Spin Ha,T 1996
Didier Plisson

France

Low collapse and spin on prototype in competition Ha 1996
Unknown

Portugal

Panic jump over ocean, being blown offshore W, Ha 1999
Jan Rowicki

IL

Low turn near buildings, mech turbulence Ha, T 2000
Dave Robicaux

FL

Low acro, water, spiral dive that he rode all the way into the water. It's not known whether the impact force was fatal or if he survived then drowned. Ha,W 2001
Unknown

Italy

Water, low, engine out (Bob Olejar PPC list) Wa 2001
Dave Flood

CA

Suicide O 2002
Wayne Hartshorn

KY

Hit tree first flight, ok but unstrapped and fell Col 2002
JDA Officer

Japan

Water Wa 2002
Wally Shilts

OH

Low acro Ha 2003
Hidemi Uemura

Japan

Water Wa 2004
Unknown

Quebec

Student kept hands in brakes while reaching down for seat. Ha 2004
John Burnworth

NC

Takeoff from residental street, hit wires Col 2005
Joe Petrosian

Ensenada, Mexico

Low collapse, probably in turbulence T, H 2005
Del Skaret

Leiper's Fork, TN

Engine out, stall? On launch.  Self-trained. Ha 2006
Gerald B. Lutz

Perrysburg, OH

Student under radio control of an instructor; tow launch Ha 2006
Carlos Cotoruelo ('Coto')

France

Unknown, low flying into headwind T 2006
Col. Barton George

Albuquerque, NM

Mid-air collision, other pilot distracted, one high, one low, Mid 2006
Sergio Villamizar

Wellington, FL

Unknown, turbulence-related? Trike Wa, T 2006
Julius Gee

UK

Low level aerobatics (more here) Ha 2007
Mike Rish

IN

Flew into water, got out of harness, drowned swimming to shore Wa 2007
Kim Young Min, owner of paramotor maker N-Zing

Thailand

killed during a "speed race" (cross country) in Thailand. Initial reports suggest that his brake handle was sucked into the prop causing his wing to enter an unrecoverable spiral. O 2007
Kevin Rymer Craig

UK

High level acro w/ structural failure of paramotor (more here) MF, Ha 2008
Martin Maxwell

Monument Valley, AZ

Flew towards mesa with distant thunderstorm. Trike. (more here) T, Ha 2008
Unknown

FL

Trike launch, went into water, drowned Wa 2008
Tim Wyeth

UK

Turbulence at low level (more here.) T 2009
Unknown

FL

Foot launched Tandem, couldn't reach brake toggle, went into water, pilot drowned, wife survived (Not USPPA rated, don't know if certified). Wa 2009
Bill Crosby

AZ

Caught tree limb on wheel of trike while maneuvering steeply (more here). Col, SM 2009
Andrew Azarskova

IL

Extended his launch run onto an adjoining road and got hit by a truck. (added 6/14/2010) O 2010
Mike Larronde

TX

Steep Spiral went nose over (vertical) and hit the water with no obvious recovery effort. (added 9/17/2010) O 2010
Wojtek Hewig

Germany

Induced collapse for purpose of testing wing. Complications caused a cravat and resulting steep spiral. He had a reserve but did not deploy it for unknown reasons. (added 11/30/2010) SM, O 2010
Unknown

TX

Student on trike flying DHV 1-2 wing under instruction. Got into an oscillation. Instructor radioed hands up but student continued inputs until impact (added 11/30/2010) Ha

StSup, O

2011
Unknown

Armstrong, BC

The article called it a "solo PPG training crash." "North Okanagan Mounties are investigating the experience level..." (added June 10, 2012) O 2012
US Northeast Pilot was footdragging on frozen river when the ice broke and he went into the water. One rescuer almost drowned attempting to save him. Wa 2013
Kyle Wittstock
Yanchep Coast, Australia
From News Report, Another news report

Mr Wittstock, 22, had launched his paramotor on a vacant block a few hundred metres from his home at Yanchep, was believed to have flown for at least an hour before he lost control and spiraled into a garage door on Linksman Drive.

St John Ambulance paramedics rushed Mr Wittstock to Joondalup Health Campus but he died soon after.

The photos he posted online while on his final flight are now precious memories his family will hold dear.

Mr Smith said Mr Wittstock was an adrenaline junkie and a sports and animal lover who was about to finish an apprenticeship under his cousin's supervision.

The men undertook their paragliding and powered paragliding training together and Mr Smith said the two usually flew together.

He wanted to stress the highly regulated nature of the sport and that Mr Wittstock's death was a freak accident. "We have laws, we have regulations," Mr Smith said. "It's not a cowboy sport and we don't try to be cowboys.

"If you ever see us, you'll notice that we all behave, respect the sport and respect each other." The cousins went to their first paragliding course about four years ago and had paraglider pilot's licences.

With further study, supervision and flying hours they qualified for their motor endorsement and to be able to fly alone.

  2013
Apr 15
Chris Atkison
Atkinson Dam, Lowood, Australia
From New Reports and pilot reports after the crash. Paramotoring champion, 40 year old Chris Atkinson, died soon after launching about 6.30am. Two fellow paramotorists were in the air already.

It has been reported that he had recently removed part or all of his motor's netting. While flying, a brake toggle went into the prop, wrapped up and pulling it into a spiral.

Atkinson broke a world paramotor distance record, flying 284km at heights of up to 2.5km on a 3 hour flight from from Gatton to west Queensland on March 6, 2013. He broke it again flying 353 kilometres in four hours on limited fuel.

  2013
May 26
0630
Jeff Carpenter

Near Chicago, IL

From Chicago Tribune News

Tandem PPG Cart lost power and went into the Fox River. Passenger drowned.

MF,Wa 2014
June
Pilot Name Unknown

Malaysia
Beach Location

A video was sent to two experienced paramotor pilots asking for an opinion of what happened.

The pilot was doing a low, moderate bank over the beach at about 70 feet. After getting half way around the turn it appears he increased the brake pressure and the bank quickly became much steeper, causing him to crash, nearly vertical, into the sand. It looked like a fairly standard moderate bank (45 degrees) that was pulled pretty quickly into a spiral dive.

Ha 2014
Gregorz Krzyzanowski

Paramotor Fatality

Poland

Pilot was flying a modified tandem rig solo with ballast instead of a passenger. Polish authorities blamed the "unauthorised" attachment to his tandem spreaders which caused a failure.

It was a connection to the riser hook-in loop whose purpose was to pull the risers aft (or forward -- not sure) while in flight. The idea being, presumably, to provide fore/aft balance. 

He fell from around 200 feet. Here is a report with pictures. It shows the failed parts but does not describe the accident sequence in detail.

UN 2014
June 16
Jeff Toll

Beaver Dam Road
Chesapeake, VA

Niviuk Doberman 16

 

While trying out a 16 m slalom wing he crashed into a field, coming down nearly vertical from at least 100' and possibly much higher. There were wires nearby but no evidence he hit them. Nobody saw the initial problem but one pilot did see the last part of his fall. It's possible he was using speedbar since he had mentioned it before flying.

According to a  paraglider pilot who was there: "He was flying level and straight from what I remember. I was filling my fuel on the ground about .25 mile from where he went down. He did mention he wanted to try the Dobermann with his speed bar and it was hooked up. The farmer at the field indicated he saw the wing horseshoed before he started dropping. That's when he shouted and I looked up. When I arrived [snip] He was situated between the lines (about 10 feet) and the wing fully extended."

The wing was sent in for inspection and no problems were noted. As it happens, I have now flown that same wing several times since the accident and have observed no unusual behaviors.

UN 2014
Sept 19
Dean Eldridge Paramotor Fatality

Siurana Airfield,

Northern Spain

Ozone Prototype 19

From Emilia Plak article in 2015-Sept issue of xc magazine.

Dean Eldridge was testing a 19 m Ozone prototype wing using a Thor 200 engine. He and Emilia had been out doing competition type flying, including low-level figure eight patterns, in the diminishing turbulence of evening. They were using 6 foot tall sticks in place of pylons

Emilia had landed and was packing her own gear when she heard the crash happen behind her. Nobody saw it.

UN 2015
Daniel Wyatt,
Bribie Island, Australia
From News Report.

Daniel Wyatt had at least 30 hours’ paramotor experience but sought the guidance of a well-experienced paragliding mentor before taking to the skies on Sunday, as recommended by the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia.

‘‘He was trained to fly and he was legally flying at the time,’’ the federation’s operations manager John Twomey said.
Daniel Wyatt, 28, died while powered paragliding at Bribie Island.

‘‘He sought to fly in company, because he was new to powered paragliding and that was no doubt to ensure that somebody could tell him the conditions on the day.

He was flying on Sunday afternoon north of Woorim Beach on Bribie Island when he lost control and crash-landed near the water’s edge. Horrified beachgoers reported seeing the motorised paraglider lose power and spiral to the ground.

Mr Wyatt, from Newmarket, suffered a number of serious injuries upon impact. His friends witnessed the crash landing and phoned for help, while two police officers and bystanders rushed to his aid. Mr Wyatt’s mentor did not see the crash.

  2015
Apr 15
Reinder F. Schilsky III

Paramotor Fatality

Quincy, IL

Reported by News Outlet, June 13, 2015, and pilot familiar with it

QUINCY -- A Jacksonville man died after a Friday night paraglider crash near Quincy.

Adams County Coroner James Keller reported Reinder F. "Buddy" Schilsky III died at 10:46 p.m. Friday in Blessing Hospital's emergency room from injuries sustained in the crash.
The Adams County Sheriff's Department said Schilsky was flying a paraglider in a field approximately 50 yards south of the entrance to Illinois Ayers Oil near U.S. 24 and Ill. 172 at 8:38 p.m. Friday when he crashed.

He was taken by ambulance to Blessing Hospital.

2015-11-14 Update. Reinder was under instruction and on his first solo. After takeoff he started oscillating. In spite of radio instruction to go hands up, he did not respond. After a traveling nearly a mile, the oscillations worsened and he hit the ground in a steep bank.

UN 2015
June 13
Lithuanian Rolandas Sakalauskas

Paramotor Fatality

Poland

Pilot was flying a task at the 2015 FAI World Paramotor Slalom Championships when his wing contacted a pylon, collapsed enough to cause a dive into the ground. He died at the hospital.

Reported by TV24 and Ryan Shaw who was also competing in the evetn.

HA 2015
July 5
James Mixer

Paramotor Fatality

Near Quincy, IL

Reported by Michael Mixer and others.

A low time pilot, Jamie Mixer, with about 30 flights, most of them on carts, was doing one of his first first foot launches. He took off, turned mostly crosswind and started left-right oscillating. In spite of instruction telling him to turn into the wind then to reduce brake input, the oscillations got steeper. About the 7th swing he went suddenly steeper and crashed at a moderately steep angle. He didn't appear to get higher than about 20 feet but it was still fatal. A doctor, who must have worked on him at the hospital, said that he had an enlarged heart that may have made the consequence much worse.

The 220 pound pilot was on a 60 pound motor and 28 meter EN-B Elektra wing.

According to Jamie's mother, the coroner uncovered that Jamie had an enlarged heart, saying that adrenalin could have caused a  dislocation of the valve during the launch.

StSup, HA 2015
Nov

Name withheld, 37

Pilling, Lancashire, England

 

Accident report reveals that a low time pilot was flying a Jojowings Instinct paraglider on fast trim in turbulent conditions. In this condition the glider would be equivelant to an EN-D wing.

The accident itself was not witnessed.

Here is the accident report link.

Unknown

2016
Oct 23

Arthur Levy, 48
Paramotor Fatality
Hutchinson Island,
  St Lucie County, FL

News reports that he crashed while flying at the beach.

Related: Pilot was involved in 2011 midair with Richard Weston.

Unknown

2017
May 11

Never go beyond gliding distance of shore, avoid moving water, and treat water deeper than 12 inches like the Mariana Trench. The 12 inch max allows your arms to push your head up in case you're forced into a face down position and can't roll over due to the cage. One pilot almost drowned in 18 inches of watery muck in just this situation.

2010-04-05 update by Steve Scruton on UK fatalities.


© 2016 Jeff Goin & Tim Kaiser   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!