by Phil Hyland, submitted by Jerry Starbuck. Thanks to USUA Club#1
It’s insidious. You look down for just a moment to take care of some problem and lose focus on your primary task: aviating. Jets crash due to it, too. Plus, focusing on distractions frequently breaks the all-important routine. Surprisingly simple little surprises have waylayed the best laid plans. This is near and dear to my heart as a frequent phototrapher, especially when doing close work down low. But the distraction can be anything that takes your eyeballs from where you’re going.
An accident with injuries occurred at approximately 10:30 EDT on September 8th, 2007 at Warrenton Air Park, located near Warrenton, Virginia. A pilot with 75 PPG flights was flying a Vittorazi motor mounted on an SD 100 frame on a Paratoys wing.
Pilot was making his second flight of the morning at his local field. The weather was clear, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 5-6 MPH. surface breeze from the south and moderately bumpy, sometimes slightly gusty winds near the surface. Eyewitnesses estimated the wind at treetop level at 10-12 MPH.
The pilot chose an approach path for landing that passed into the prevailing wind, over a line of 60-foot trees. About 30 seconds from touchdown pilot noted trim was not set to slow setting, so decided to execute a go around. However, adjustment of trim became focus before gaining ample altitude resulting in brushing the treetop of a pine and loss of altitude into the hanger just beyond. The engine was heard to rev just before his feet and knees, hanging from the leg straps in a landing configuration, were observed to impact the top of the trees. This was followed in 1-2 seconds by the very loud sound of the pilot contacting the top of the metal clad, wood stringer construction aircraft hanger. Eyewitnesses reported that after striking the trees the wing “fell over” to the pilot’s
left and he dropped down and impacted the hanger roof.
Nearby pilot rescuers reached the scene within a minute and 911 was dialed immediately. The pilot, hooked into his harness and paramotor was visible at the top of the hanger, near the peak. The pilot was found suspended at chest level in the
corrugated metal roof by the paramotor frame and harness. He was not moving, but did occasionally respond vaguely to questions, complaining of chest pains. He was breathing with minor bleeding from cuts on his chin and knee. He was wearing a helmet. The motor was running at idle when rescuers reached the scene. Gas was leaking slowly onto the roof from the gas tank. The spark plug wire was pulled to stop the motor to prevent a fire.
One person stayed with the pilot as other rescuers set up a tall ladder inside the hanger. The pilot was able to put some occasional weight on the ladder. He could not easily be extracted upward out of the roof hole, and rescuers assessed he could not climb down the ladder inside the hanger.
Professional paramedics from the local fire department arrived soon and climbed up on the outside of the hanger roof and up the ladder inside the hanger. They decided to call for a ladder truck equipped with a long extensible ladder with a cherry picker platform at the end. This arrived about 10 minutes later. The pilot’s paramotor frame was attached by straps to the cherry picker platform and he was extracted vertically out of the roof, swung clear of the hanger, and lowered to the ground where he was placed in a stretcher, and transferred by ambulance to a medivac helicopter that had landed at the airfield.
Upon transfer to a hospital the pilot was diagnosed with broken ribs on both sides of his
chest, a cracked sternum, a lung contusion, and several minor cuts and scrapes. He spent the evening in the hospital, was released to home the next day, and is making a full recovery. Damage to the equipment included a broken prop, bent paramotor frame, broken frame hoops, bent J-bar (right side), and all wing lines cut by rescuers. The gas tank was leaking. There was no immediately apparent other damage to the wing. The hanger roof had a two foot diameter hole in the metal corrugated sheathing and broken 2×4 wood stringers.
Root cause of the accident is assessed as pilot selection of a landing approach profile with too little margin over trees and last moment distraction due to riser trim adjustments. Loss of focus on flying at a low level was the critical error.