Outdoors

Criticism of paragliding safety criticized

Paragliders are framed by the Alps, at left, and Lake Geneva during a preview for the media ahead of the fifth international acrobatic paragliding competition which runs from Aug. 23 to Aug. 25 in Villeneuve, western Switzerland, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Laurent Gillieron / Keystone)
Paragliders are framed by the Alps, at left, and Lake Geneva during a preview for the media ahead of the fifth international acrobatic paragliding competition which runs from Aug. 23 to Aug. 25 in Villeneuve, western Switzerland, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Laurent Gillieron / Keystone)

FREE FLYING — I've received a sharp response to my previous post regarding paragliding safety prompted by the death of David Norwood, a highly-regarded flyer who crashed to his death at Chelan Butte on Wednesday.

Like all tragedies, the incident is causing some flyers to step back and re-evaluate. The discussion can only be healthy.

But my previous post, in which I simply printed the personal perspective of Rick Masters of Owens Valley, California, was not well received by some paragliders.  

Masters contends that when choosing to fly paragliders or hang-gliders, one is a safer choice in iffy weather because of the frame that helps prevent canopy collapse. 

Masters suggests that frank discussions are hindered on chat rooms because paragliding sites often are controlled by people in the industry who don't want too much frank talk.

But James Bradley of New York, the U.S. moderator on the worldwide online forum paraglidingforum.com, sharply disagrees.  Here's his message:

Your acceptance of Rick Masters as an authority on paragliding, apparently without taking the time to learn anything about him, or talk to any people who are actually involved with the sport—we are all concerned about safety—is pretty disappointing.

I am one of a handful of US pilots who race on the Paragliding World Cup circuit. I am also the only US moderator on the worldwide online forum paraglidingforum.com (a volunteer position). Rick Masters was allowed to join there and post like anyone else. We learned that he is on an enduring anti-paragliding crusade. Like a religious zealot, he is not interested in facts or discussion unless they support his rigidly defined position. He behaved badly for some time on the forum and then we banned him, as we have a handful of other people over time.

Masters' disregard for facts is evident in his facile characterization of Paragliding Forum as populated mainly by people with a commercial interest in the sport. There are some of those of course but we have 30,000 registered members worldwide and an untold number who read without registering. The vast majority are simply enthusiasts in the sport.

All light aircraft are dangerous. The accident and fatality statistics for hang gliding and paragliding over time are about the same. The most common accident types are different. Accidents come in clumps in all sports, probability predicts that. We are sadly in a clump of paragliding accidents in North America at the moment, much more than average. The last couple of years have been the other way, lighter than the average.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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