CFW - No Accidents, and Autumn Safety Reminders

According to the event’s organizers and helpers, there were no accidents during Colorado Fly Week. Certainly, there were a few bumps and bruises here and there, which is respectable, but all in all everyone made good decisions and the reward was an accident-free week. Good on you if you were there and let’s keep this trend at our local sites through the rest of the year.

Remember, autumn conditions can be just as unpredictable as spring conditions. Weather patterns that you’ve been used to over the past 3-4 months are going to start shifting. A few items that quickly come to mind…

  • steeper lapse rates given upper atmospheric cooling = strong climbs and potentially rough conditions
  • the re-approach of the Polar jet… it’s been chillin’ farther north during the summer months (with the occasional visit), but it will start moving its way south back toward mid-continent. Now is a good time to re-visit what constitutes safe winds aloft in the presence of the jet.
  • inversions and down sloping air parcels… as strong winter-time inversions break down (sometimes they won’t during the course of a day, or even for an extended time frame- think of the bad winter front range ozone alert days) strong winds aloft can mix down rapidly. Add to this sinking cold parcels of air from aloft in the presence of a stable layer at or above mountain top heights. Generally, these down sloping conditions are readily observable and you wouldn’t even think of getting your wing out to kite, much less fly. These down sloping winds will always have a westerly component so for front range flying, one can’t even get off the hill because it’s over-the-back so fiercely. Just be aware of changing conditions throughout the flying day.

As a quick follow-up to my own post, regarding accidents at CFW, versus incidents…

There were incidents at CFW but there were no accidents (except that I just learned about an HG accident, apparently launch related, that resulted in a concussion, and temporarily lost GoPro).

However, there were certainly incidents out there.

According to USHPA, and generally accepted by the FAA, an “accident” results in injury to self or others, property damage, and/or equipment damage. An “incident” is a situation where an accident could’ve happened given a shift in time or space. I like to avoid this un-intuitive language and adopt industrial safety language in which “near-miss” is used rather than “incident”. But, to be aligned with USHPA we should use “incident” where we can.

There were three blown HG launches and one PG chute deployment/tree landing.

Two of the blown launches were at Villa and the 3rd was at Ute pass. Only one blown launch resulted in any injury - the mild concussion.

The PG tree landing (at Whale) didn’t result in any injury. Though the same pilot reported a possible cracked rib a day or two later. It is unknown if that was flying related since his HG buddy messed up his shoulder the same day while 4-wheeling.

There was lots of lost aluminum. At least one broken leading edge the first day and several downtubes per day all week.

There were so many bad approaches all week. People coming in much too slow from a few hundred AGL to the ground. Several crazy low 180 turns to final. One topless did a really long final and crossed the blue flag fence less than a few feet over the cars/tents parked along the fence - much too close. I saw many pilots arrive over the LZ with a 1,000’ only to completely miss the LZ due to bad approaches.

And then there were all of the gliders landing really, really short, behind the fence in the “no land” zone, near the road to launch.

The 2nd day at Whale was the scariest for me. 55 gliders flew from Whale that day and the lift wasn’t that great. The gaggles were scary with lots of close calls. People were turning in different directions and sometimes flying straight through a group. And there is one reported event of two HG hitting. Luckily it was one wing sliding over another and no harm was done.

But considering there were roughly 200 pilots flying 7 days, several of which did two flights (or more) per day, it could have been a lot worse for that number of launches/landings.

Getting sucked up into a cloud that was clearly a large storm and accidentally landing in Salida ought to qualify at least for an honorable mention in this thread.

I can’t remember if that was before or after the safety talk from Wills Wing. I think it was before.

It was incredible to me that nothing worse happened. I lost a lot of sleep leading up to the event wondering (hypothetically) how we would find the downed pilot who threw their chute somewhere along the Sangre’ or Saguache range(s). We were prepared with EMTs on launch, in the LZ, back boards, ambulance (ground and air) etc. As Rick pointed out, given the number of flight ops each day, (I believe we had somewhere between 600 to 750 launches of mixed hangs and paras) statistically I felt we were over due for something bad to happen, but fortunately it didn’t.

Each morning I’d meet with the EMTs before our pilots meeting to go over events from the previous day; what happenend, what could have been done differently, improved upon, quality of our comms between launch and EMTs, etc. In the end, three paragliding events that could have resulted in serious injuries, didn’t. Three hang gliding launches and two landings that also could have resulted in serious injuries did not require any medical intervention.

It was a fun week, but I’m also glad its over.

Rich J.