There was a PG crash at Williams yesterday which resulted in a helicopter removal of the pilot due to back injuries. I didn’t get the pilots name (Griffin), but he lives in the Steamboat area.
I was on launch and getting ready to launch my PG at the time of the accident and wittnessed the entire flight, collapse and crash. This happened very close to the launch / setup area.
Many people on launch and at the EMT staging area helped but I would like to particularly thank Mark and Linda Windsheimer who stayed with the injured pilot during the long wait for the paramedics to get to upper launch. Linda is a nurse and was able to provide good guidance on how to position the injured pilot during a the wait.
It was a light day at Williams and we were at upper launch. It had been blowing in about 5-10 from the SSW. Many HGs had flown early morning sledders and had come back up to take afternoon flights. There were many HGs set up or setting up and there were three PGs getting ready to launch at the time. This was about 11:00. The winds had picked up a little but were around 10 mph with a few slightly stronger cycles coming in from the West. A HG launched about 5 minutes prior to the accident. For that flight the pilot worked the ridge lift flying back and forth across launch for about 6 passes or so before the lift subsided and they flew out, away from launch. There was not any jossling of the HG or other indications of turbulent air. The prior morning HG flights were all described as having very smooth conditions.
The PG launch was good and uneventful. They did a reverse and kited the wing then only needed a few steps to get it launched. As the winds were SW the flight started to the left of launch. The wing gained a little altitude and flew out slightly above launch. They then turned to the right to work the lift across the ridge slowly gaining a little altitude. The flying was smooth and the wing continued in front of launch at about 75 to 100 ft above launch when the right wing had a strong and fast collapse. This happened where you would be turning around to reverse your path for another pass along the ridge. This was a 40-50% collapse with the tip coming down low. The wing started rotating to the right, toward the hill. There was no reinflation of the collapse. The rotation continued and the vertical drop appeared to accelerate for the last 50 feet until impact. The wing appeared to go through a full rotation and since it was a right turn that took the wing back towards the hill there was a large vertical component to the impact.
People ran to assist the downed pilot and got the PG and harness removed. Due to injury to the back movement was minimized. He was fully conscious. While I don’t have the exact times, it seemed to be about an hour before the first EMT responders got to launch and then another half hour before the helicopter arrived. They brought out a large group of 4+ vehicles for this and had a staging area at the entrance gate.
The area where this occured was at the far right side of the ridge. This is an area where typically later in the day dusties form and roll up towards the trees. It appeared the pilot was flying a normal flight path and that a dusty may have started coming up that side of the ridge collapsing the right half of the wing. While waiting for the EMT team to arrive we had to move some HGs as a couple dusties came through that were moderately strong.