While standing there running my motor, I reflected on the number of hand injuries and how easily they happen. And how quickly. The thought made me rehearse what I’d do if the power came on unexpectedly.
I’ve been told of four recent incidents that are not yet on the database but deserve to be shared so that we can all learn. Please contribute to USPPA’s incident database if you’ve had, or know of an accident that’s not there.
This is the most insidious report I’ve ever heard. A pilot had his motor apart in the garage without its cage on. He needed to get to something and pulled the starter just enough to move the propeller out of the way. It fired up, going immediately to over half power, lunging forward and hitting him in the arm, mangling it. He was lucky in being extremely close to emergency medical services that could get him stabilized and to a hospital post haste.
He was just moving the propeller to work on something. You just never expect that. Sometimes you stand out in the field and have to pull it a bunch of times to start. Then, in the garage, you just want to move the prop and it jumps to life. Go figure.
An easy solution is pulling the spark plug before moving the prop at all. But too often it’s easy to act without taking the extra time. I’ve moved the prop just like this. Hopefully I’ll think twice about it now. This is one accident type that clutched machines canNOT have.
A pilot was launching in nil wind. The wing came up and he got running so fast that he fell, ending up with his hands forward. The paramotor rode up his back such that the cage top impacted the ground and wound up slicing two of his fingertips off. They were unable to be reattached.
The solution to this is making sure you are running, feeling some lift from the wing and fully under control before committing to launch. That’s much easier said than done, of course, since it takes quite a bit of practice to get to that point of ability. Many pilots, especially in their early hours, tend to just throttle up and hope for the best. Obviously killing the motor immediately is important but this accident shows that doing so may not be either possible or be done quick enough.
The machine had a rigid two-hoop frame so don’t think the problem is limited to flexible cage machines. Certainly more prop clearance is good but it’s not a panacea.
Just recently I was at a high elevation site with my Blackhawk 172 in nil wind and thought of this accident. My inflation and run turned out to be slightly downwind so, after getting the wing up, I was running very fast with little lift from the wing–a perfect scenario for falling. So I backed off the power to prevent overrunning my legs, accelerating slowly until I felt lift from the wing then I powered up enough to lift off.
3. Reaching Back
An experienced pilot was reaching back to turn on his strobe and mis-judged the distance, hitting the prop. Damage through his glove was relatively superficial but still required a hospital visit and stitches.
I’ve done this same reach before. Be careful!
4. Starting In A Hurry
OK, this is so common it’s regrettably quickly dismissed. But quickly is the problem. I sympathize here since I sometimes get out my machine for some forgotten accessory. A phone, a lens, music, a radio or whatever. That careful preflight is now behind me and isn’t likely repeated. Rather I go back to start the machine, thinking all is well.
Not so fast.
Did I do a carb check?
The victim of this mishap had a machine where pulling on the throttle stem caused some RPM increase. He had gotten in the machine, started it, realized he forgot something, shut off the motor, went to get his gadget and came back to restart. When he pulled the cord it went suddendly to half power and caught him off guard. He had time, though, to carefully put one hand up on the cage to hold it back while he reached down to hit the kill switch. After shutting down the motor with some relief he noticed blood running onto his pants. Looking up revealed a horrible site: his hand was essentially cut in half. The prop didn’t hit his hand in the usual way, rather it caught on something that motor moved into, like his truck’s tailgate, and caused it to shatter. One exploding projectile got his hand.
He acknowledges that he was lucky it wasn’t his neck.
We continue to get these reports and the results are terrible. It’s obviously an area that needs our attention. My observation of paramotor-related hospital visits is that this is the single greatest cause of serious injuries in the sport.
It would obviously be extremely helpful if manufacturers would build netting/cage structures that are able to keep an open human palm from reaching the prop at full rated thrust. It is possible! See “A Better Paramotor.”
As always, please contribute incidents reports to the USPPA database so we can learn from each other’s mishaps in order to avoid repeating them.