Perfect morning! Only the faintest breeze from the East. I flew back to the area where I saw the pigs last week. I did spot one but he was not bothered by me and wouldn’t move. Overflew the burn area and did a flyby at the RC Airport. No Drama!
The motor seemed to be running smother with less vibration or belt slap. Go figure! The only thing different was that it was 73 degrees at launch.
On Friday evening, several hours after I had left, tragedy struck when Richard Biggerstaff was, according to two witnesses, doing a spiral from which he hit the ground. There was a small post-impact fire that was extinguished almost right away. Another pilot who was flying with Richard at the time, saw the whole thing from the air. He landed and rushed over, reporting that “he’s gone” by the time another witness arrived at the scene.
They were high, over 1000 feet AGL according to the flying witness, when the spiral was initiated. It was almost certainly a “nose-over” spiral where the pilot and wing are pointed nearly straight down, rotating quickly.Richard had received probably 30 flights of training elsewhere and came to Bryan in Austin, TX, for a day of brush up after a 9 month hiatus.At the Endless Footdrag, Richard had been flying fairly aggressively including steep spirals. Bryan had talked with him about it.
The most likely explanation is that he blacked out before impact and never knew what happened. There are, of course, other possibilities–accident investigation is rife with examples of early assessments being wrong. But most of the time the obvious reason is the correct reason. Hopefully we can get enough evidence to rule out equipment failure or other even less likely causes.
He was flying normally-functioning, appropriate gear: a Nirvana motor and Universal wing. These details are so utterly irrelevant because they have almost no bearing on this kind of spiral. It’s a characteristic of paragliders that when the bank goes beyond a certain point in a round circle, it automatically devolves into a nearly straight-down condition that locks in: no input is required to stay like that.
Blackout can happen in seconds depending on several factors. It’s possible that, by the time someone notices their visual field closing in (graying out,) it’s too late. Beginner gliders are just as susceptible as advanced ones. Being heavily loaded makes it easier to get into but I don’t know the glider’s size. I suspect he was over 9 lbs / sq meter which makes starting a spiral easy.
Round, steep spirals are remarkably lethal.
My heart goes out to his connections–those whose lives were intertwined with his. I joked with him several times while he was out in the field kiting with Bryan West who was helping him on various wing handling skills although, to my knowledge, he was not one of Bryan’s students, at least originally. He was also an airplane pilot who flew his plane to the event. Clearly he had a love for life and flight that most of us share.
We all need to help spread the word about how absurdly dangerous this maneuver is. I’ve covered it in articles here, the book, and various magazines but it’s easy to melt into our overall risk.
History shows this one to be a particularly lethal recurring theme.
One problem is that it’s an extremely easy maneuver to do. They all look the same whether done by newbie or inexperienced pilot. So someone aspiring to keep up with their aggressive peers or just wanting to explore can get right into it. And, as these videos show, blackout happens so quickly!
We need to do a better job of educating those we influence on the risk of steep spirals AT ANY ALTITUDE. You only black out once and, to my knowledge, it’s *ALWAYS* a death sentence.
How much more do we push it at fly-ins? As of this writing I’ve been at 4 events since 1999 where pilots have died; three of them were due to aggressive maneuvering. Is it possible our exhibitionism is getting the best of us?
If I were an event organizer, knowing what I do now, and it was my primary field, I would likely ask pilots to only come if they’re willing to fly like grandmas and grant permission only to those with a history of successful acro or steep maneuvering. Events would get smaller, of course, but that would be a trade for making them safer and more likely to continue.
Lets Face It
What we do has risk. I’m a proponent of evidence-based understanding, using empirical evidence to inform our understanding. How we then act on that is a personal choice but damn lets make sure everyone at least knows where the risk is. I do risky things, we all do, to some degree, by strapping these things on. But some things are really bad and steep, round spirals are among the worst. Low, steep maneuvering is another that, although not as lethal as spiraling, has caused a few and caused a lot of maiming.
I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone what to do or not do, after all, I do my share of lowish, moderately steep maneuvering, but just want to share knowledge about what’s at stake.
This is a tragedy on many levels obviously the worst being the pilot, his family and friends. Also for Britton who has lost his primary training field as a result. And to those of us who have lost a fellow flyer doing what we all love.
Life is precious and so terribly fragile. Live it well.
Dawn overslept. I didn’t take time to “gear up”, no garmin, no gopro, and only had the iPhone. Was not comfortable without a camera tether. BUT…
It was a nice flight. Bout 30 minutes.
Saw some good sized wild pigs and will have to go back there with the GoPro. They’re really skittish and quick and fast as pronghorns. I watched two run like hell through some tall grass: they plowed right through. It looks like a large family, maybe 12 animals but it will be hard to bunch them up, because they won’t be slowed by natural barriers. They’ll go right under a fence without loosing speed and dodge around objects that the Pronghorn would have to jump over. It will be fun to try and sneak up on them, the next time I’m over here.
No Mechanical issues except vibrations in 3200rpm range.
After a personally EPIC dive, I spent the some time hanging at the boat, enjoying the skippers hospitality.
The boat deserves a comment. Its the best equipped boat I’ve sailed, since 2005 with Burley. It has all the required equipment for a Cat. 2 offshore race…. And, everything is in good shape and ready to be deployed. The lines are good, the sails are good. Their was a jackline and clips positioned for rough weather. It’s hard to find anything to complain about. Well OK…. The propane tank was out, so no coffee or hot meals but that didn’t bother anybody. The cabin is light with long windows and light colors. The wood, is Cherry Yew, a species popular in Europe and not easy to find. The cabins and salon were just the right size and Jay had added grab rails and leeboards to make it safer and more comfortable during an offshore passage.
I especially liked his playlist. It was an eclectic mix of old and new. All the songs we grew up with and a bunch from the 30s 40s and 50s that neither of us were alive for the first performance. Seems we were both the children of music loving families with an early connection to vinyl.
So I spent the early afternoon recovering from the dive and listening to, The Beatles, Billy Holiday, Cab Calloway and Gershwin. I did a quick edit of the mornings footage. It was amazing! If you would have asked me a week ago, if I would be interested in a serious penetration dive at 100 feet I would have said, “No Way”. When I booked the dive, we didn’t talk about it. He asked me what my certification was and when I said, “advanced”, he just nodded. It wasn’t until we were away from the dock and the briefing started that I learned the particulars. And…. Here it was, I was not only going inside the hull but transversing it and entering spaces with no visible exit. Wow! I’m going to be reliving this one for awhile.
When Jay showed up we went back to the Commodore to try their famous burger that wasn’t available on the dinner menu. It was hot but that didn’t stop the continuous parade of beauties and tourists strolling the boardwalk in front of us.
That evening was the award ceremony at Dante’s. There were several fleets and two starts with small fleets. Since they were giving awards to the top three, just about everybody got time on the podium. About half way through I was feeling like somebodies uncle at Graduation. Playmobil received a handsome framed burgee of the Conch Republic and we trooped up front for the photo shoot.
That night I was planning to take in the songwriter/singer fest but I’d had enough excitement and opted to go back to the boat and sleep.
Return to Reality Regatta
There were only 5 or maybe 6 boats in the start but our fleet was intact. Fancy Free, Southern Cross and Playmobil loitered around the mark trying to gauge the current and figure the best place to be at the start. Nothing too exciting, Don, Bob and I were in position and the winds were an easy 7 – 10. At one minute we were making our way to the line on starboard with Fancy Free behind us. Southern Cross was making for the line on port tack and it was obvious that they wouldn’t make it in time to cross before we got there. Jay hollered, “starboard” and Bob repeated it just for good measure. From the actions of the Crew on Southern Cross it was clear that they heard us but their Skipper held his course and Jay was forced off his course. We were clearly fouled and Jay didn’t hesitate protesting.
I was right! The “Big Boxy Skipper” was a bully. He drove his boat right at us! We had to turn or T-bone him. He had nothing to gain by hammering us at the start. He was bigger, faster and pointed better. What a jack ass! Jay put up the red flag and we continued the race.
As we pulled away from Key West a colorful little bird joined the boat and stayed with us for several hours. He went below a few times but never stayed long. Occasionally he would fly off the lee side and pace us for a few minutes and then return. I took half a dozen bad photos and only got one of the bird. We also had a small pod of dolphin hang for awhile. Good times!
Light winds on the nose kept us pointing through the day and that evening was light and variable. The wind was swinging on a 90 degree arc making it a chore to keep good VMG. At dawn we were treated to a beautiful sunrise that no cell phone could capture.
The winds were too light for the genoa so Jay decided to set the spinnaker and fly it like an asymmetrical. I had a brief hero, moment when Jay lost the spin halyard and I had to go up the mast a few feet and retrieve it. It was a frustrating situation, the halyard was swinging just within reach, then it would get wrapped around something and hang beyond my grasp. Eventually it unwrapped and I was able to grab and bring it down. Spinnakers have always intimidated me but after working the “pit” position with Nuzzo and todays experience. I’m think, I’m beginning to get it, I look forward to the next time and hope we can tack a few times so I see how its done. Like a lot of things, once you’ve done it a few times it starts making sense.
So… We were sailing along just fine, our competition was out of sight but there were sails behind us for perspective. It was all good. Bob and I were high in the cockpit on the windward side, when… BANG… Sounding like a .30.30 the windward chainplate exploded. My first thought was the carbon mast had failed and we’d lost the rig but when I looked up I could see the mast was intact but swinging wildly. Jay and the crew were great, almost instantly, the main was eased and we started to get the spinnaker down. I was having a hard time pulling it in and thought the halyard was still locked or maybe something else was preventing it from coming down but when another hand, got to pulling, it came down fast. Some of the spinnaker hit the water but we got it aboard. Jay’s first order was to chill for a second, then he called for a couple of life preservers, and then, we took down the main. Next we used the spinnaker halyard to begin to brace the mast. While were rigging the spin halyard I could see the mast doing sine waves and wondered how much it could flex before failing. Jay had me go below and bring up some Spectra. We tied a bowline on a turn buckle and ran it through a spinnaker snatch block and back to a winch. Realizing that only the lowers were braced we repeated it with another turnbuckle and tensioned the uppers. Now the mast was looking good. With disaster avoided we started the motor and headed for Naples.
We had been debating weather or not to leave the boat in Naples and retrieve it later or stop at the Yacht Club, file our protest and continue on to Charlotte Harbor. Now, it wasn’t an option, Jay had to get the boat north or deal with it stuck in a remote slip for possibly weeks. The protest was a moot point since we didn’t finish so we made Naples and dropped Bob and Don at the first open dock. They shuttled the cars back and Jay and I brought the boat home.
Other than a broken rig, it was a nice ride. I got to see the IWC up past Fort Myers beach and the West side of Pine Island. We were watching some weather to the North West and Don called to tell us there were small craft warnings and water spouts but we were below the worst of it and never even needed the foul weather gear I brought up. Getting into Ponce De Leon after dark was a trick but Jay had us at the dock well before 11:00 and I was in bed by Midnight.
The next day we met at the boat and put it away for the season. Thanks for the great experience Jay!
Two offshore Regattas and a kick ass Dive in Key West
The Bone Island Regatta is actually 2 races. The first race is A southern sprint from either Naples or Sarasota to Key West. The second is called the Return to Reality Regatta and it goes north back to our respective starts.
Playmobil, was a C&C 110 out of Punta Gorda. On the Tuesday prior to the race, the owner,( Jay Nadelson), and I, delivered the boat to the Naples Yacht Club. We left his house Tuesday morning shortly after 7:00am and mostly motor sailed. We arrived about 5:30 that evening. Don MacAlpine kindly provided us a shuttle home. During the delivery I had time to explore the boat and spend a few minutes on the wheel. Playmobil features V-Pro sails and a carbon rig. It is a serious racing boat with a beautiful cabin and lots of amenities. We made the Naples Jetty about 5:00p. The canal has a 30 mph speed limit and it seemed like every other boat was wake-ing us. I was reminded of Rodney Dangerfield in Caddy Shack, wrecking havoc while cranking and banking around the Yacht Club, The difference was…. we were the ones, getting, “No Respect”.
During the start I watched our competitors, Fancy Free and Southern Cross. Southern Cross is a Mereck designed 46′, it sported a tall rig , and a center mounted grinder? Fancy Free is about the same size as us with an expensive suite of Carbon Sails. Both are faster boats that owe us handicap time. Southern Cross owes 1 1/2 hours and Fancy Free 15 minutes for the first leg.
The skipper of the Southern Cross is a big boxy guy with a mop of blond hair, I decided, for no good reason other than from what I cold see from 200 feet. That he was might try to bully us. No good reason, except that it seemed to fit and as the race progressed my initial impression proved correct. The start was clean, with Playmobil getting off first, Fancy Free second and Southern Cross not far behind. No question about it, Southern Cross was a fast boat and it passed both of us shortly after the start. Fancy Free on the other hand is a pretty good match and we paced each other until nightfall.
That evening a beautiful full moon came up and the winds came down. We struggled through the night to keep the boat moving. Jay and Bob had the first watch from 8 till 11. Don and I went below to rest before it was our turn. I was awakened about 10:30 when Jay lost course and spun the boat. We all joked about losing situational awareness and sure enough, I made the same error a couple of hours later. One minute we were drifting along counting our speed in yards per minute and the next I was pointing 180 off course in irons. Looking back, I should have called for some help and set the whisker pole to maximize the little air we had. I don’t think it would have won us the race but it would have made driving the boat a little easer.
When the sun came up, so did the winds. At Sunrise, we were closing on the entrance to the North West Approach. It’s a tricky narrow course and it was hard to see the marks. Against an 11 knot wind, we made 17 tacks, with the big Genoa, to reach the finish. This was the best sailing of the trip. The four of us were in good sync and every tack was a little better than the one before. The finish line consisted of three people standing at the sea wall with a flag, I smiled when Bob Sween calmly announced that he could hear the screaming of the crowds.
We lowered the sails and made our slip at the Galleon Marina. After putting the boat away the four of us shared a dockside breakfast. The big question on everybody’s mind was how we placed. What had happened after dark? Were the others caught in the same black hole as us? There was no sign of Fancy Free or the Southern Cross, we assumed that they had finished before us, But…….by how much? We broke as a crew to pursue our own devices, but not before making plans to meet at the Regatta Party later that evening. After a little housekeeping, I rented a scooter and cruised Duval Street. Key West seemed so different to me compared to the last time I was here. The streets seem smaller and I could barely recognize some of the more popular clubs and bars. I’m sure they were exactly the same as before. A lot of water under the bridge. So many issues have run their course and resolved. Not to say everything is perfect, but my head is in a much better place than my visit in 2010. Its all good.
On a whim I stopped at a couple of dive shops and ended up booking a dive for the next morning.
That evening we had cocktails at the Galleon Tiki Bar and dinner at the Commodore Restaurant. We were entertained by a table of Irish Gents in their cups. After most excellent lobster dinner I motored my scooter around and enjoyed the energy on Duval St. Its like no other. The walkways were as dense with visitors as Vegas or Bourban St. in New Orleans and there were a few drunks stumbling around but Key West has a flavor all it’s own. I like it.
Awake at 6:30, I quickly pulled together my stuff and walked down the dock enjoying the dawn and sniffing the air for fresh coffee. I found a seat by the walk where I could watch some sport fishermen preparing for the day. At 8:00 I checked in at the dive shop and picked up my dive computer. The first person I saw was an elderly guy in short shorts and bandanna. I guessed he must be OK, because even though he was moving slow you could tell, he knew, what he was doing and where he was going. A few minutes later the skipper arrived and we selected my gear. Its all good!
During the dive briefing, I discovered that this wasn’t just a small wreck in 30 feet of water. The Vandenberg is a 10,000 ton troop transport 522 feet long and 72 feet wide and 100 feet tall with a 25 foot draft. During its last deployments it was configured as an Advanced Range Instrumentation Ship (ARIS) with three large antennas topside. It was sunk in 2009 to create an artificial reef in 120 feet of water.
We were lucky, there were only 6 divers booked and the boat could hold 30 plus. The older gent mentioned above, turned out be Denny, an 82 year old with many hundreds of dives. He is a legend around here, and Franco Piacibello, also a Key West legend, a master photographer and well known saxophonist. The other divers were Claudia and her husband Ray who were from the D.C. area and two other gents I didn’t get to know. Franco asked and I planned to dive with him but shortly after getting into the water the master tugged on my fins and indicated we should Buddy up.
We descended to 30 feet and picked up a line that would take us to midship. I let some air out of my BC and holding the GoPro in one hand and the decent line in the other I began to glide down toward the ship. Wow! There it was. Visibility was good but not good enough to see the entire ship. We arrived slighty aft of midship and headed toward the Kingpost that was the highest point. Descending toward the balloon launch deck I flew over the massive radar discs. The outer skin was gone and what remained was the skeleton of disk, it was covered with growth, and looked like the product of a giant, obsessive compulsive sea spider. I followed the master diver along what might otherwise be called the lido deck, to an open bulkhead a third of the way to the stern. We entered a large open space that spanned the width of the ship. I think it was the Balloon hanger. At one end there was a second level and half of it was open to the sea overhead. On the port side there was a 80-100 pound grouper hanging out, he slowly exited the ship as we approached. From there we passed through the Balloon Hanger to the gym space. Then we reentered the ship and followed the corridor and stairs down to the carpenter and paint shop. It had been stripped of everything except a bench bolted to the center space. I hunkered down and spent a little time using the flashlight examining the area. There were the beginnings of stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. Right now, it was just pliable sea growth, but I could imagine, if left undisturbed, it could grow into something to behold. There was a workbench bolted to the floor and I envision the sailor standing there working on a project. The master diver beckoned and I followed him to the far side opening. Once outside we followed a flight of stairs up a deck to another space where I could see light from several large openings. We slowly worked our way down and through the ship traveling toward the stern. After crossing several frames we emerged below the fantail through an opening by the transom. From there we moved back to midship where we picked up the mooring and made for the surface. Bottom time was 17 minutes at 102 feet with a 10 minute decompression stop.
The video is mine….
Music by Lannie Garrett
the stills were shot by Franco.
I got the Sketchy…He got the Beauty.
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The second dive was much like the first except that we explored the forward areas of the boat. Some penetrations were surprisingly tight, with narrow corridors and lots of 90 degree turns. At one point the master handed me his light, I didn’t know why but was happy to have it and kept it mostly on the master as he led me through the labyrinth. I remembered reading of deaths in sunken ships. How divers got tangled in fallen wires or wedged into a space they couldn’t extract themselves from. I was breathing like a steam engine on the first dive thinking about all the ways I could kill myself but by the middle of the second I was back to sipping air and enjoying myself. This ship was safer than most wrecks, before she was sunk the Vandenberg was completely stripped of moving hardware, all the bulkhead doors were removed and the wires had been pulled. There was no glass to debris to complicate our dive. One diver called it an underwater “Jungle Jim”, and while I think I’m beyond playground equipment I certainly enjoyed this one!
GoPro footage is mine. The stills were by……Franco Piacibello, Key West Legend, Musician and Photographer extraordinaire.
Tony was at the field again. He launched first and I was a few minutes behind. Tony went up river and I explored the area closer to the field. It was getting bumpy down low toward the end of the flight. There was also a layer of turbulence at 1200 ft.
Next I’d like to explore the river. This morning I got a taste of it and there are a lot of hidden “ponds” that are not visable from the waterway. Some of them are obvious fishing holes, others are places where people haul boats they want to abandon.
This will be the last flight until I return from the Naples Key West Race.