2018

2018

Postby Rick Masters » Thu May 17, 2018 9:16 pm

Most of you are aware that I am building a global database of paragliding accidents.
Since paragliding started racking up casualties at the end of the 1980s, I have found more than 1,700 fatalities over 42 years.
I am also building a database on hang gliding, which is significantly more difficult because hang gliding goes back to the 1880s.
Over these 138 years, I have found about 900 fatalities in hang gliding but I am certain there have been many more.

If you are making a comparison between soaring parachuting and hang gliding, you have to start from zero in 1986.
By that year, there had been at least 546 hang gliding fatalities.
The first hang gliding death of 1986 was #547, that of Manuel DaRosa, an elderly gentleman of King City, California who wished to try the sport and apparently stalled off a 500-foot hill, breaking his neck in the crash.
The first paragliding fatality was likely in the Alps, specifically in Switzerland or Germany, in 1986, date uncertain.
Bringing these forward from 1986, we have incomplete fatality totals of:
Paragliding: 1,712
Hang gliding: 317
These numbers are accurate in the sense that they are the minimum verified numbers in my database.

It is too early in my research to draw solid conclusions from these numbers.
However, it is clear that more than half of the soaring parachutists died following a collapse of their canopy.
Hang glider pilots almost always die from pilot error, defined as a mistake made during flight.
This is a factor that can be addressed, meaning that by studying accidents, hang glider pilots can reduce their casualty rate by not making the same mistakes others have made.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for paragliding, regardless how insistant the USHPA and other national orginizations may claim to the contrary.
Paragliders collapse in normal atmospheric conditions (turbulence), seemingly at random, and kill their pilots regardless of skill level.
There is nothing to be done. With nothing to maintain the shape of the fabric airfoil in turbulence, paragliding is gambling.
I would think that to claim otherwise places any hybrid free-flight organization at great legal risk.

Hang gliding, on the other hand, presents a skill to be honed.
The risk presented to the pilot on an aircraft that cannot lose its shape in turbulence and fall out of the sky is much different than the risk a gambler faces on a parachute.

Global paragliding fatalities Jan 1 through May 17 of each year (incomplete)

2009    34
2010    27
2011    28
2012    36
2013    32
2014    39
2015    32
2016    33
2017    30
2018    26

More fatalities will probably trickle in to raise the 2018 number into the 30s.
The reason the numbers are so remarkably similar each year is that, unlike aircraft with airfoils supported by airframes, paragliders kill their operators at random.
The primary factor is average atmospheric instability: turbulence. Nothing else.
The liklihood of death in a given period is a percentage: the inverse of all paragliders being flown multiplied by those that collapse in turbulence and kill their operators x 100.
This percentage is almost constant.
Pilot skill and training have nothing to do with it.
The fatality rate will stay about the same if the number of paragliders being flown is about the same, year on year.
The number is so steady each year that it can be closely predicted.
And the only way to reduce the fatalities is to reduce the number of paragliders being flown.
Now the Paragliding Slaughter Season begins in the Northern Hemisphere...
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