A pilot participating in the UK Icarus X Series paramotor race has died. It’s a tragedy on many levels but mostly for the family, of course. These are nearly always vibrant people in prime condition who love life.
As one who competed for years in more “traditional” types of paramotor competition I get that it adds risk. We humans tend to look at someone else’s risk choices as foolish while our own are acceptable. Ever since the Icarus came out I’ve thought it pretty high risk, namely because pilots are encouraged internally to push through conditions they would otherwise pass on. But that’s the same thing I did many times in the pylon and precision type tasks. I *IS* risky. But so is strapping on a paramotor.
Thankfully, pilots have lots of choice in how much risk they accept. If we launch in good conditions from a wide open area, climb up to a couple hundred feet and stay there until landing, the fatality risk is really low. But do you start the motor while standing in front of it without some kind of sudden power mitigation? (see safer starting) I accept this risk occasionally, usually when the motor is being difficult but have improved the cage to improve my odds. Those odds still aren’t 0.
A cross country competition carries unavoidable risks, mostly related to conditions and locations. Pilots want to make it and will fly through conditions they wouldn’t at home. They’ll attempt launch from places that aren’t so hot. And do so while carrying lots of weight which further decreases margins. Look at the X-Alps, the coolest paragliding cross country race ever where pilots hike and fly their way through a course.
Pylon racing over land got so bad they moved it over water which has helped immensely. There’s less you can do with cross country but hopefully organizers will learn from this to improve the odds rather than cancel the whole thing. I love having broad boundaries in our freedom of choice but recognize that boundaries at some point have value.
Anytime we push ourselves, calamity is one of the more likely fallouts. It’s best if we, as the non-participating public, can recognize that people take on their own risk. No doubt the race organizers make it extremely clear what forces are acting on their psyche’s and encourage recognition of what’s at stake. I haven’t seen the waiver but I’ll bet it’s a doozy.
It’s equally important is for pilots considering any competition to know what’s at stake. I don’t have any good data but judging the number of fatalities in paramotor competition vs. the number of flights, I’ll bet it would come out to be at least 10 times more risky.