Thoughts on a Fatal Powered Paragliding Accident

One of our own is gone.

Even though I did not know Andrew personally, undoubtedly he would have been an instant friend–a lover of life and of flight. He died while launching his paramotor after being hit by a truck on a relatively sparsely traveled road. Ten seconds earlier or ten seconds later would have made this just another “close call” story. I’ve seen pilots launch over roads without looking both ways who were just lucky. Andrew wasn’t. This tragedy highlights again how fragile, and how fleeting life is. My heart goes out to his family and friends.


Of course we have to learn from these horrific losses. There is almost always something that could be done and this was no different. Go farther from the road. Abort if things aren’t progressing as planned, etc. That’s so easy to say but how many times have we seen (or maybe even done) a launch take longer than planned? In this case there was a road nearby. It’s also easy to say “look both ways” and, of course it is easy to look both ways, but reality of a maximum effort takeoff that pilots aren’t looking everywhere they’d like to be looking. Ask him if he would look both ways before launching across a road and his reaction would be the same as yours, the same as mine.

Lets not write these things off as if “it couldn’t happen to me.” Maybe we don’t incur this particular risk, going accross a road, but there are many, many opportunities. I know I’m in several risk categoriesĀ  and will readily admit to seeing the influence of luck, good and bad, in some instances. Sometimes it was only inĀ  the clarity of hindsight that I realized how luck’s hand was dealt.

Take Home

One take-home is the common instruction on how to make this sport sooooo much safer: After (1) thorough training to at least PPG2 level, (2) limit yourself to reasonably benign certified gliders, (3) fly from wide open fields, (4) in good weather with no drastic changes forecast, (5) climb to 200 feet and (6) stay within the first 3 and last 3 hours of daylight. (7) Don’t do any steep maneuvering or (8) fly out of gliding range of safe sites and (9) never ever allow water to be a possible landing option. Avoiding props may reduce the most hospital visits and life-changing injuries, but the above instructions will do the most to stay alive.

This basic advice goes a long way to avoiding most fatal accident risk.

Misjudging launch distance caused a pilot’s demise who thought the water was a lot farther away and wasn’t that deep anyway. He fatally misjudged both the distance and depth. So much has to do with simple preplanning. If you cannot steer a launch, have an abort option in mind. Something like “If I don’t get airborne by xxx then I’ll stop.” Another is that, if the launch isn’t progressing by plan, abort to a run and reasses, avoiding the proverbial emergency launch. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to have good plans in mind than it is to execute unwanted, albeit safe, aborts after struggling through a difficult launch.

To those who say there is no such thing as luck: billshut. I certainly agree that we have enormous influence on our well-being, but have witnessed enough surprising coincidences to know that pure chance inhabits reality. Just ask my friend who was southbound on I-71, headed to a church function with his parents who were following in a car behind. A towed vehicle in the northbound lane became disconnected, crossed the median and crashed into his mother’s car, killing her. Use your imagination on how many chance events led to that one.

Lets just make sure to let Andrews tragedy be a lesson on what’s at stake and do what we can to minimize luck’s effect to its lowest possible level.

The article is below. Andrew’s funeral was today, June 16, 2010.

From the News Article

A Ballwin, Mo. man was killed Sunday morning after his paraglider struck a pickup truck traveling down a road near Columbia.

Andrey Azarskova, 40, was attempting to take off from a field east of Ramsey Road in his power paraglider just before 11 a.m. Sunday when he lost control of the paraglider. The parachute on the out-of-control paraglider was caught by a gust of wind and Azarskova was pulled towards Ramsey Road, according to Columbia Police Chief Col. Joseph A. Edwards.

When the paraglider reached Ramsey Road it struck the side of a 1996 Ford F-250 pickup truck traveling southbound on the road. The impact with the truck caused Azarskova severe injuries.

He was taken to St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Louis where he was pronounced dead.

The Columbia Police Department, the Columbia EMS Department and the Columbia Fire Department all responded to the accident. The fire department assisted during the investigation and contained a gas leak from the crashed paraglider.

The FAA was also contacted and arrived at the scene to assist with the investigation, however, because the FAA does not require licensing or certification to operate a paraglider the Columbia Police Department is handling the investigation into the crash and Azarskova’s death.