PG Accident at Williams

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.

A few more details.

The pilot’s name is Griffin. I believe he’s 19. He moved to Steamboat recently (maybe a year ago) from Breckenridge.

He was flown from Williams to a hospital in Frisco. It was determined he had a ruptured L2. He was then flown to Denver where I believe he is scheduled for surgery.

I was at the main parking lot by the LZ and witnessed the accident. It was roughly 11:30. Shortly before noon upper launch informed us that the EMTs were on their way and one of us should head to the turn off by the postage stamp so they knew where to go. I went down there with Griffin’s girlfriend Lindsay thinking at the time that Griffin was going to be driven down from launch and meet the EMTs by the postage stamp. The first EMT arrived at the turn off about 12:30. He and I spoke for a minute about what happened, where the accident was, and that a lot more people were on their way. Then he sped off to upper launch.

Over the next 5 minutes a Summit county sheriff arrived pulling an ATV. Then several more search and rescue types showed up. Then another rescue truck pulling 3 more ATVs arrived. The parking lot by the postage stamp was getting quite full. Several of the ATVs headed up to launch to assist. The sheriff is originally from New Zealand and had flown paragliders there. In fact he even had to be rescued once so he understood the situation very well.

We spent the next hour discussing what happened and coordinating communications and situation updates. The sheriff mentioned that flight-for-life was on standby. Then we got an update over our own frequency that Griffin was feeling some numbness in his legs. The Sheriff heard this report and immediately called for flight-for-life to come in. The helicopter landed at upper launch 20 minutes later. I think it was about 1:30 by then. An ambulance arrived in the staging area just in case they chose not to fly Griffin out. But shortly after landing, they had loaded Griffin and flew off to Frisco. I then drove Lindsay back to her car by the LZ and she headed off to Frisco.

The rescue team was largely made up of volunteers. They were well organized and prepared. I can’t speak to what they did on the accident site but from the staging area I was impressed with the level of professionalism. The sheriff also appreciated the fact that we were handling things well. We had people helping Griffin up top waiting for the EMTs and we had communications allowing up to provide updates until their team was in place with their own communications.

This sucks to hear, I flew with Griffin the last time I was in Williams. He’s really an excellent pilot for his age, he’s been flying since I think he was 12, really bad to hear about this. I have his contact info so I’ll reach out to him. He’s also John Fullenkamp son, some of you may know him, he also goes by Big John.

If I find out anything I’ll post up hear.

Just heard back from Griffin, Yep just as reported from Rick burst fractured his L2 but doesn’t need surgery so that good.

Just got an update on Griffin. No surgery needed. 12 weeks in a back brace followed by 12 weeks of recovery. That’s going to make for a long winter in Steamboat.

I am going to be fine, L2 burst fracture but like Rick said, no surgery, 12 weeks in a brace and 12 weeks of low activity. The safety gear works though which is probably why I’m still alive.

I just want to say thanks again to everyone for helping me after the accident and getting emergency crews organized. It really made a terrible situation much more bearable. You guys were all really awesome and I’m not sure how to better thank you.

Following up with an update, I was just discharged from the hospital about 30 minutes ago. I’m being driven home by my parents and have people at home to help me out when I’m there. I’ll be in a brace for 12 weeks and then low activity for 12 more but the doctors say that after that I’ll be almost as good as new.

I want to say thanks again to everyone who helped me get stable, called and organized the rescue operation and took care of all my gear. You guys are really incredible.