Jupiter, FL, young pilot jumps from Powered Paraglider

Video and news reports showed a pilot in a shallow right descending turn. He is seen coming out of a riser twist then hanging from his harness for a few seconds before letting go and falling from his paramotor, reportedly over 100 feet, onto a forgiving enough surface to survive. He could have easily died but he landed on terrain that left him with merely severe injuries.

When I first heard of this I suspected there was more than meets the eye. Initial media reports were almost comical in their reporting to those familiar with paramotors. To an outsider, having the “steering system go out” is entirely plausible. The pilot never said those words but that’s how it got translated by a reporter.

It wasn’t actually far from the truth since, in the pilots mind, he couldn’t steer the glider since both brakes were locked in the riser twist. He almost certainly had never been in that situation and may not have realized that he could, or wasn’t able to reach above the twist and steer with brake lines or rear risers. It’s possible the twist was too high, like in some high hook-in machines, but it was reported that his had low hook-ins.

He may have known that, with brake toggles caught in a riser twist it could be bad to try pulling them. A pulled brake would not go back up leaving potentially in a spiral dive–a much worse situation.

Back Story

The pilot was a sponsored athlete who had recently won kite surfing competitions. That suggests he was probably a quick learner–you don’t get there by being mediocre. He may have seen powered paragliding as just another wind sport because there is no record of formal training, either for the paragliding, powered paragliding or acro. We don’t know how many flights he’d had but it was at least in the dozens.

It’s possible he had seen another pilot doing acro and decided to try it on his own. Of course doing so without training is a terrible idea but he’s far from the first to do it. He just got bit particularly hard. One witness reported seeing him do steep maneuvers that ended up with him twisting up beneath the wing which is where the video started.

Doing acro maneuvers without training: he just got bit particularly hard

It was reported that the motor was idling and that, at some point before jumping, he had let go of the throttle meaning he couldn’t kill the motor. That might be why he reported being concerned that he was heading for the crowds. Of course the machine will go somewhere, but in the irrational thinking of life or death situations, thoughts get scrambled.

He may have been concerned about going in the water and didn’t want to get tangled in the lines which is why he unbuckled and got ready to jump. But then the craft kept turning and put him over land. Or maybe he didn’t like where the uncontrollable craft was taking him and saw what he thought was a soft spot.

Training For Acro 

During most maneuvers clinics, one of the first things they do is have pilots put themselves in a riser twist. You practice reaching above the brake pulleys to control the glider, learning that the glider doesn’t care which way you’re pointed to fly properly but you mustn’t use the brake toggles lest they get stuck in a pulled state.

Such control would not be intuitive and it may not work in some high hook-in machines. It’s reported that Damien’s machine is  a low hook-in model but we haven’t verified that.

Well *I* Would Have… 

It’s easy to say you would do but history is replete with good pilots doing the wrong things in stressful situations including skilled airline pilots that never had a problem before.

It’s possible he was flying a “hot” wing but that’s ancillary–what’s more relevant is doing steep maneuvers without any formal training. The trainer would talk about the wing and whether it was appropriate. I don’t do barrel rolls or any real acro maneuver but I have yet to meet a wing that won’t go safely into very big, 90+ degree wingovers which, if done wrong, can easily end up in a riser twist. This isn’t about the wing. A riser twist can happen in a lot of situations involving steep maneuvers gone wrong.

The Best Course

So lets learn from it. We can never think of every possibility but, by considering them in advance, we can certainly improve our odds when flight goes awry.

1. Don’t jump. History has taught us that jumping from a paramotor is nearly always a bad idea, even if you know the landing will be in water. We’re terrible judges of height as this accident so plainly shows. Think about the energy involved remembering that impact force increases to the square of speed. At 100 feet you’ll accelerate to over 40 mph. That’s nearly twice normal flight speed which is FOUR TIMES THE IMPACT FORCE!

There are exceptions to every rule and no doubt someone can envision a scenario where jumping from low altitude may be the better course but I can’t think of any. Maybe you’re on fire and over water but, even then, much above 100 feet and you’re likely to drown after being injured and unable to swim.

2. Get the best training available that you can afford. If you can’t afford it consider what your life and health are worth.

3. If you’re going to accept the risk of going it alone, build slowly. Very slowly. And realize what you’re risking.

The Palm Beach Post has an article here.