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Revised March 31, 2004

Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000
From: Angus Pinkerton

How many lives could have been saved by better chutes and deployment systems is surely just as relevant as knowing how many lives have been saved to date by reserve deployments.

Whilst we know of quite a few cases of lives probably saved by Emergency parachutes, and give very strong advice to our members to carry them. We also know in the UK of several cases where a parachute failed, or may have caused something else to fail, or some other aspect of the emergency parachute system caused serious problems. These should not be ignored as they seem to us to be a worryingly high proportion of all deployments.

In Canada, we have had 9 accidental deployments, and several instances where the pilot was too low to deploy successfuly, one instance resulting in a fatality.

Here are some examples from my personal recollection:

  1. Two deaths following a mid air collision between two HGs which severed the keel of one hang glider. Emergency parachute deployed as the pilot fell free from the glider. The chute burst on opening, pilot died on impact. The other pilot did not deploy their chute (possibly incapacitated in the collision) and also died on impact with the ground.
  2. Two deaths following a mid air collision between two HGs. One pilot deployed their chute immediately and descended under an overloaded and unstable chute which was accelerating and descending at 11m/s at impact (established from barograph function of variometer). The pilot was killed. The other glider flew away from the impact site and the pilot deliberately deployed their chute over a large field. This pilot's harness failed under the shock of the chute opening and the pilot fell to their death.
  3. Death following chute deployment, possibly after tumble. Chute had burst on opening. Although the pilot was still attached to the glider it is unknown how much structural damage had occurred when the chute was thrown.
  4. Death following mid air between HG and PG. PG was damaged but flew to safe landing. HG was pitched down and stalled. Pilot deployed chute which did not open due to being held closed by the deployment bag which had been rigged with the chute lines through a loop on the bag. Pilot killed on impact.
  5. Death following attempted chute deployment (I can't remember what caused the chute to have to be deployed, it was quite probably another mid-air collision). The deployment handle detached from the deployment bag due to stitching failure.
  6. Accidental deployment just after takeoff on a HG which resulted in serious facial injury.
  7. Accidental deployment just after takeoff on a HG at a windy cliff site which lifted the glider up, back, and down again in the rotor. No injury or damage!
  8. Accidental deployment in flight in an HG that the pilot was able to hold the canopy with one hand until just before landing. Bruising and glider damage.
  9. Both pilots survived following mid air collision between two HGs. One pilot successfully deployed their chute and escaped with a broken arm, the second deployed their chute, but it did not open, remaining as a streamer until impact. Ground impact was in small trees on a steep slope, the glider wreckage lodged in a tree, leaving the pilot suspended a few feet above the ground. The pilot was bruised but otherwise uninjured.
  10. Pilot survived cross tube failure of HG at altitude without a parachute! Impact was on a small patch of soft ground amongst large areas of rocks. Serious pelvic injuries, but full recovery.

Having achieved near universal carrying of emergency parachutes, the next step must be to as make sure as possible that they will work when required (and not deploy when not required). To this end in the UK we have a training system and examination to Licence Emergency Parachute Packing and Systems inspectors, who are trained to inspect and repack chutes and systems.

In Canada, Riggers are certified to repair parachutes.

Since repacking most reserves is not technically demanding, we put our emphasis on Deployment practice clinics.

North American evidence is that one of the most important factors is to be able to get your parachute out quickly. Terminal velocity can be reached in short order. Extreme load forces can cause blown chutes or failed harnesses. Secondly, Hang Gliders can quickly enter violent spins, and centrifugal forces thus become a significant cause of failed deployments either because the pilot cannot deploy the reserve effectively, or it streamers and wraps around the glider.

We have no record of any failed Paragliding reserve deployments. For a list of accidental and failed deployments (all from + - 100' AGL or less) Link to Canadian Parachute Deployment Statistics

I thought it might be rewarding to know how many lives have been saved by reserve deployments. I am sure the R&D people / manufacturors would be interested in having their efforts validated.

I have a policy here in Canada. Any pilot who throws their reserve gets a free bottle of champagne at a competition / club meeting - in return for telling the story in front of all their friends. (Oh yeah... and filling out an incident report!) It has made for some very special evenings around the campfire.

I like very much the idea of stories around the fire with a champagne bottle!
Here is my one: Angelo Crapanzano - METAMORFOSI

The second paragliding reserve I manufactured (it was the old 1989) was bought by a Swiss pilot. A couple of weeks later he went to fly to Monte Generoso (between Lugano and Como) with his new "high performance" paraglider: it was the age of the famous Genair.

Conditions were quite turbulent with a thunderstorm far at the North-West. While he was thermalling the paraglider collapsed and he couldn't manage to reopen it so he had to deploy his brand new rescue parachute. Everything went well and he landed completely unhurt on a slope high on the mountain. He was quite far from any road with only the possibility to go down walking so he decided to takeoff again and go down flying.

Of course the deployment bag was lost and he was not able to repack the parachute so he wrapped the canopy inside the lines and stowed it in the back-sack.

In flight everything was OK, he found a nice thermal so decided to continue his flight: it was several years he was flying without parachute and "the lightning never hits twice the same place".
Not in this case: his paraglider collapsed again and did not reopen despite all his efforts so he went for the back-sack, opened the zipper, pulled out the parachute and throw it as it was!
The parachute opened with just 50 meters left and he landed again on a slope high on the mountain but this time he decided to put everything in the back-sack and went down walking!
Maybe just because he was nearer to a road?

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