Death Spiral Fatality at Endless Foot Drag Fly-In

Goin’s report On the most recent fatality.  The accident rate among new pilots is rising.

Tragedy: Paramotor Fatality From Spiral

2017-05-26 Endless Footdrag Fatality | Fatalities | Steep Maneuvering Risk Article

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.

Round Spirals

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.
At Fly-Ins
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.

Jeff Toll …. Another good man down.

RIP Jeff

Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds that follow a storm.

To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within.

To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
and know the warmth of a clear spring sky.

Then back to earth at the end of the day,
Released from the tensions which melted away.

Should my end come while I am in flight,
On the brightest day or the darkest night,

Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I’d do it again

For each of us is created to die – 
And within me I know I was born to fly.

Anyone who has flown powered Paragliders for more than a few years has lost a friend or aquantance.  Stupid mistakes, failed equipment, overinflated egos and or skills.  For what ever reason it’s always, ultimately, the hand of God.  

Today when I checked Facebook  I discovered that fellow pilot, Jeff Toll, a partner in Team Fly Halo, had been killed in an accident.  My experience with Jeff and Team Halo is limited to The Gathering at Monument Valley and I only chatted with Jeff a few times so I cannot claim he was a great friend.  Nevertheless it didn’t take long to know he was a talented pilot, a strait shooter and very likeable guy.  

Here is a eyewitness account:  I’m not sure who wrote it and hope it is factual.

There are a lot of questions regarding the passing of our brother and legend Jeff, and there’s a lot of confusion and grief about this accident.

Myself, Keith Butt, and Jeff fly out of a three-acre lot in central Chesapeake, Virginia. The location is perfect with few obstructions and almost no potential for rotor.

Yesterday morning I looked at the sky and saw almost nothing but blue as far as I could see. The weather was perfect with winds about 1 knot out of the north-west. I texted Jeff and Keith saying I was going flying, and to see if they were interested in going too. Jeff wanted to, but said he was taking his wife, Jessica, out last night. Somehow influence overcame him and he was compelled to come. That’s a little bit my fault.

When I arrived at the field, Keith and a friend of Jeff’s, Mike, were already in the air, and as I pulled onto the field, Jeff was getting airborne.

I parked directly behind Jeff’s Jeep and began quickly unloading my motor from behind my Highlander, conducted a quick preflight look and began fueling. Jeff and the guys were flying overhead and around the field, and Jeff passed directly over me and waved vigorously shouting, “Hi, Micah!” As far as I know, those were the last words he said.

He proceeded northbound from the area where it’s slightly unclear exactly what happened. I was facing him as I was fueling, but all I was able to see was his wing hit a set of overhead power lines as he fell to the ground. The owner of the property, who saw the complete incident, said Jeff’s wing collapsed and he fell quickly to the ground from about 50-60 feet, well over the power lines, and maybe hit the lines on the way down.

I dropped everything and ran about a quarter-mile through about 3-feet of beans growing in the field adjacent to the LA until I arrived at the site where Jeff was.

When I got there, his motor was still running with a little bit of white smoke coming from the spinner. His reduction belt was missing, so the engine was spinning with only its own load. A few minutes later, the property owner arrived in a pickup and dialed 911.

Jeff was lifeless. His eyes were open, but he had no pulse, was not breathing, and had no circulation in his veins.

I cut his harness off of him and the farmer lifted the motor from his back. Knowing he would likely have spinal damage, though weighing that risk with his lack of vital signs, we laid him on his back and I began CPR. It took about 5 cycles of 120 compression/2 breaths before the paramedics arrived. I continued CPR shortly after while they were setting up equipment, then I was relieved by one of the paramedics who continued. He was immediately hooked-up to an AED and fluid suction to try to relieve the bleeding in his chest. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.

I’m sure this is a huge blow for Halo.  Jeff Byron and Shane have a unique business model and are poised to be the premier Flight School in PPG.  I look forward to working with them at future Monument Valley Gatherings but with the event less than two weeks away it’s doubtful that they will make it this year. Good luck you guys, I wish you the best.

Update:   Yesterday the Jeff Toll Memorial Airfield was dedicated.  Their home field had been groomed and Jeff was honored by having his name cut into the surface grass.  Mimicking the best of Jeff’s technological GE wiz gimictry a 360 degree cam view was available on line.  I could hear the ambient sounds and panning around I saw the podium and tent that had been erected for the ceremony.
With such a beautiful place to fly, I’m sure that Jeff’s name will not be forgotten by the aviators of the area.

His memorial service was today at 11:00. It was streamed live to anyone.  The PA wasn’t part of the feed, so we had to make do with the house speakers and all the ambient sounds of a church. I had to pay close attention while babies cried and people coughed, to understand Bryon, Shane and Jeff’s  Dad, Ray. They spoke well, Byron read the poem quoted above, Shane told their story and Jeff’s dad wrapped it all up with ,”TOLL …..Together,  Our Love Lasts”.  It presented Jeff in the best tradition of a fallen comrad. My heart goes out to them and also to all the pilots and friends and loved ones who preceded him in passing. 

Video Tribute to Jeff Toll

Monument Valley Fatality

Fatality at Monument Valley,
Date: 09/27/2008
Time: 19:00
Location: Monument Valley Park, Arizona
Pilot Information Age: 38
Gender: MalePilot weight (without motor): 235 US Pounds
Rating: Intermediate (PPG2 or Equivalent) Experience: 10-50 Hours Solo
Incident Detail Information Type of Incident:
Collision with Terrain/Obstruction on Ground
Primary Cause: Pilot Error and Weather
Windspeed: Unknown
Wind Type: Gusting
Thermal Conditions: None
Visibility: clear with approaching thunderstorms and gust fronts
Surface: Dirt or Small Rocks
Terrain: Hilly Site Elevation: 5200 (feet above sea level)
Phase of Flight: Cruise Purpose of Flight: Recreation
Safety Gear Used: None

Damage to Pilot’s Equipment:
Totaled Wing: Macpara Eden II 33, DHV 1-2
Motor: Fly Products Gold 115, Flash Trike
Injury InformationPilot/Passenger Injury Severity: Fatal Hosipitalization: None
Collateral Damage: None

Narrative: By Mo Sheldon:
On the evening of September 27, 2008, right at sunset at approximately 7:00pm, Martin Maxwell crashed his powered paraglider trike in Monument Valley Park, Arizona. Here is my account of this incident that is being submitted to the Sheriff’s Office and that I am posting publicly with the pilot communities. As for my credentials, I am a experienced powered paraglider pilot and flight instructor, tow operator, and paraglider pilot. I had worked with Martin to teach him to fly a powered paraglider in the Fall/Summer of 2008. I also considered him a friend. We both separately decided to join an informal gathering of pilots to fly that weekend. Also, the following day after the incident, I volunteered to go to the crash site to help understand the reasons for the crash and to recover the gear. In knowing Martin his friend and flight instructor, I know that he spent a great deal of effort and time studying pilot incident reports, trying to learn from the experiences of others. I believe this incident report I have prepared is something he would have wanted me to do. And so in writing this, I believe I honor his memory. Also, considering he was my friend, writing this report has been particularly difficult for me. It is my hope that preparing this incident report will prevent future incidents and fatalities. Pilot ExperienceMartin was a very experienced recreational, licensed hot air balloon pilot, with over 23 years experience and many flights as pilot in command and as a crew. A number of years previously, he had also tried to obtain his General Aviation private license and came very close to completion. He was also actively involved in CAP (Civil Air Patrol) and flew regularly in small fixed wing aircraft on search and rescue operations. He loved to be around anything flying related. With powered paragliding he initially worked with me showing his talents as a professional videographer to create a video called “Introduction to Paramotoring” which can be seen here: When it came to his powered paraglider trike training, he completed this over several months in the Fall/Summer of 2008. He purchased a MacPara Eden II 33 paraglider, a Fly Products Gold 115 motor unit and a Fly Products Flash trike. Considering he weighed 235 pounds, this gear was ideally sized for his weight. I made sure his gear was set up and running as best as possible. He completed his solo flight on August 1, 2008. He exhibited a great deal of skill in launching, flying and landing, but by all measures was still beginner a powered paraglider pilot. Yet on several occasions myself and other local pilots felt that he was trying things too advanced for his limited powered paragliding experience. This was conveyed to him several times by me that it would be wise to progress slowly, safely and over time. He seemed to listen carefully and respectfully but clearly he disregarded these recommendations. His flight at Monument Valley was number 15 as pilot in command in his powered paraglider trike. Pre-Incident BackgroundA number of powered paraglider pilots (roughly 30) had informally gathered that weekend to fly near Monument Valley. Our staging area was Gouldings Airport, about 5 miles from Monument Valley Park. Martin had told a number of people he would be coming and indicated that he had dreamed his entire life to fly at Monument Valley. He arrived late Friday night with his wife Lynn and older teenage son Preston and 3 dogs. He set up camp at the Gouldings Campsite. He did fly twice early on Saturday morning and reported the conditions were bumpy. Last Flight TakeoffOn Saturday afternoon, a number of powered paraglider pilots informally met at Gouldings Airport to hopefully fly in smooth, late day air. We arrived around 4:00pm to find the wind gusting from the West. No one launched. There were a number of larger cumulus clouds developing 15 to 20 miles to the South and East and also to the North and West. Around 5:30pm conditions had calmed considerably at the airport. I was one of the first to launch to feel it out. The air was quite smooth, with minor bumps, and other pilots then started launching. Within a short time, the large clouds to the East and South had begun to grow and develop into formidable cumulus clouds and occasional lightning could be seen coming from them. Most pilots opted to stay close to the airport due to the warnings of the ominous growing clouds in the distance. The few that did venture out were mostly experienced pilots and they came back to the airport and landed even though the air was still quite smooth. It appears that Martin launched sometime between 6:00pm and 6:30pm and headed West by himself directly to Monument Valley Park, specifically towards Mitten Monument, which was over 5 miles away from the airport. He was also heading directly to the growing, ominous thunderstorms which were growing towards Monument Valley. By this time, most pilots had come in to land or were preparing to land. By approximately 6:45pm only two other pilots were still flying when the air at Gouldings Airport became very rowdy. The two remaining pilots were being tossed up and down, yet both landed without incident. The two thunderstorms to the West and South West appeared to converge and blowing dust and lightning could be seen around them in the distance. Most pilots packed their gear and headed for Gouldings Restaurant after sunset for an informal gathering. Martin’s wife commented that her husband was missing. She had not seen him launch and inquired if anyone had seen him. No one had any recollection of him even launching. Later one pilot revealed he had helped him launch on the end of the runway. The CrashPreston, Martin’s son, and Chad, a friend Martin had invited, were staged on a dirt road about 0.75 mile from Mittens Monument and were taking some photos of Martin flying around the monuments. Perhaps Martin became fixed on making those photos a reality. Right before sunset, at approximately 7:00pm, several eyewitnesses at Monument Valley Park, including Preston and people camping at the Park noticed Martin was flying towards and within 0.5 mile of Mitten Monument at 200 to 300 feet above ground when his craft began to get rocked violently in large up and down swings of 50 feet. The thunder storms had developed considerably and were now within a few miles of Martin probably throwing him some very strange air. The witnesses were approximately 0.25 to 0.33 mile away. 2 witnesses noted that his motor sounded to be running erratically up and down, but it was probably that the pilot was simply adding and reducing throttle to try to stabilize his violent ups and and downs in altitude. What happens next is uncertain whether he lost altitude from the severe weather (strong winds, downdrafts, gusts and/or rotors) that was moving on him, that he became scared and wanted to land quickly and reduced his throttle accordingly, or his motor began to “sputter” (the exact words of 2 witnesses) and he simply could not maintain his altitude. His son noted that he got a minor wing tip collapse and then turned around, heading back to Gouldings Airport. The severe rocking and loss of altitude began to quickly increase. As he lowered in altitude he began to descend into very unforgiving, hilly, canyon-like terrain. Preston noted the rocking continued to increase very violently as he descended and his motor was revving up and down. This was probably due to the strong rotors he was getting off the nearby hilly terrain. At about 50 feet above ground and well below the horizon of the canyon-like terrain, Preston noted he had a very severe full wing collapse and then he crashed with his motor running at full throttle into the side of a hill approximately 0.25 mile away from witnesses. Witnesses reported a large cloud of dust shot up and then the motor quickly became silent. 911 calls were made at just after 7:00pm. Preston and Chad rushed to the scene of the crash. Preston estimates he was there within a few minutes as he ran as quickly as possible to help his dad. When he arrived he found Martin in the wreckage unconscious, not breathing, and with what appeared to him as a very faint heartbeat. It was clear he had landed extremely hard as his gear sustained substantial damage. Considering the remoteness of the crash site, the difficult terrain, the crazy weather approaching, and that dusk and night was coming on quickly, rescue and recovery efforts were slow. It took rescue crew an additional 50 minutes to find the crash site in the pitch of night and difficult terrain. Martin was pronounced dead on the scene. Cause of Incident and DeathThe initial autopsy report reveals that the cause of death was “multiple blunt force injuries” mainly to his chest cavity. With any aviation related accident, there usually isn’t one cause that can be labeled as the only cause. It is usually a string of multiple actions and choices. This incident has a number of contributing factors, all stemming from poor decisions of the pilot. First, was the weather. The warnings were all around calling out loudly and clearly. As an experienced, licensed hot air balloon pilot and with his powered paraglider training he was intimately aware of reading these warnings and fully aware of the risks of flying in unforgiving weather. It is not clear why he chose to ignore these warnings given his extensive experience in reading weather. Second, was the terrain he was flying over and landed in. It was extremely unforgiving, jagged, hilly, and dangerous. Given his paramotor training, he was fully aware of the severe risks associated with flying over and landing in rough terrain. Third was his experience level. He was flying over terrain and in weather that was well beyond his experience level of 15 powered paraglider flights. Fourth was getting caught up and hyper focused into a task or series of tasks (such as flying around the Monuments, being the center of some special photographs, showing off for family and friends). The Next DayEarly Sunday morning myself and Craig Squillante, a fellow experienced powered paraglider pilot joined the investigating officials to the crash site to try to piece together what happened and later carry out the gear. We found the point of impact and carefully examined the crash scene looking for details to unravel this puzzle of this incident. It was clear that the landing was very hard as the trike and motor cage was severely bent up and broken. He had considerable downward and forward forces on impacting the side of a steep hill. The propeller was cleanly shredded to about 16″ long, with hundreds of propeller splinters scattered in a 30′ radius. This indicated that the landing was at full throttle. Additionally, the force of the impact coupled with the gyroscopic forces of the shattering propeller at full throttle ejected the entire motor frame (motor, prop, fuel tank, carburetor, etc) approximately 8′ away from the trike and cage. Final ThoughtsThis incident was caused by a cascade of pilot errors that all compounded onto each other. There was some question that perhaps his motor failed him, but these reports came from unreliable laymen witnesses who heard the motor from approximately 0.5 mile away. Additionally, there was conflicting reports from the eyewitnesses on how his motor sounded. I believe his equipment operated normally as there was no other indications to the contrary and previously it had operated flawlessly. There was a lingering question whether a helmet may have helped to prevent his death. The autopsy indicates that a helmet would probably not have saved his life, even though Martin chose to fly without one with full awareness of the added risks. Some pilots questioned whether a reserve parachute may have helped. I do not think so. Considering the terrain and the severe weather and his lack of experience, a reserve deployment would probably have made matters worse. If there is a major lesson to be learned it is first and foremost to fly within your experience level and push your skill levels slowly. Second, to stay cautious and respectful at all times on the weather and the terrain below you. Third, to recognize that flying is a continual process of learning, respect for mother nature, respect for the limits of your gear, and respect of your own limits.

Martin Maxwell’s Autopsy

Blunt force injuries to the head: A. Abrasions- the two things on his forehead B. Subarachnoid Hemorrhage-bleeding into the space between the skull and the brain C.Atlanto-occipital dislocation- The crack between the neck and spine Blunt force- Chest A. Abrasions- Internal B. Sternum and Rib Fractures- He broke his 5th and 6th ribs C. Aortic laceration with bilateral hemothoraces- Collapse of the lung by puncture which bled out. D. Right Pulmonary Artery Laceration- E. Inferior Vena Cava laceration- cut of the main blood line in your chest, this line goes between your stomach and heart, but feeds to other lines that branch out to your extremities. 3. Blunt Force injuries- Extremities A. Abrasions and Contusions- scratches on knees, and hands etc. B. Left Humerus fracture- He broke his shoulder, or popped it out of place
So I am going to shorten this all up for you going from the Head to the feet: The brain plates in the head= The one in the back split from the rest and crushed the brain which would not have killed right away but if not attended to it would have. He broke the connection between his neck and his spine in bone. He broke his left shoulder. Many internal injuries including cracked ribs 5 and 6 on both sides, he popped his aorta making it bleed profusely. He popped the right pulmonary artery another artery that would bleed profusely. And the Inferior Vena Cava, another profuse bleeder. He had 640 ML of blood in his chest cavity. He punctured his lung when his ribs popped and made that bleed but there was a very small amount there, not enough to kill. He popped his pubic bone from his pelvis, so he broke his pelvis in turn. And if anything could get any worse, he broke his left femur. The big bone in your leg.
This was no soft run into the ground.
The Opinion of the Examiner is: The crack between the neck and spine and the aortic laceration which lead to bleeding into the chest cavity, so essentially he bled to death internally. My Thoughts follow the examiners- he bled internally to death because of the laceration to the Aorta, the laceration to the vena cava, which in turn leaked blood, and, killing him too and the puncture to his lung, which didn’t allow him to breathe,
For any one who was wondering- He weighed 242lbs and was 73 inches in height. He was stiff and not easy to move as stated by the examiner.
Mo’s Final Comment

The injuries Martin sustained were certainly much worse than I had anticipated. I will concur, especially from how damaged I saw his gear, that he hit very, very hard. In my discussions with you, the other eye-witnesses, and from studying the wreckage, I estimate with a high probability that he was flying downwind and with a very fast downward velocity when he impacted the side of the hill. I also estimate he encountered some very severe air turbulence in the form of rotors seconds before he impacted.

Monument Valley Debrief

At the Banquet we learned that the pilot down was Martin Maxwell
I met Martin at the airstrip about 45 minutes before his fatal flight.
While we were hanging at the airstrip waiting for the weather to change I noticed an unfamiliar face and introduced myself to Martin. We chatted a bit about ballooning And he told me a story about where he had waited at a balloon festival with “hundreds” of pilots for the weather to cooperate.
Martin and I had corresponded extensively prior to the Fly-in, mostly concerning camping options and how much cheaper it was to stay on the reservation. He also contacted me to suggest ways to improve the event. I was peeved that he didn’t want to spend the 25 bucks to stay at Gouldings with the rest of us, but it was an informal Fly-in, if he wanted to stay at the Dry camp in the reservation, that was his business. After his death I re-read our correspondence and came to realize that he wasn’t so much trying to tell me what to do…but rather he was just very excited about flying the Monuments and I was the guy putting it on.
When Bill first informed me that we had a pilot down my first thought was: Who?… there are no vehicles in the lot. Who is missing? and mostly…
How are we gonna find this guy in the middle of nowhere, in the dark.
I forgot about the missing car keys and rushed up to the Lodge with Mark get the scoop. The first person I spoke with was Barbara, the restaurant manager, who informed us who the pilot was, she said, that he had been located and EMT’s were en route. That was good news, I figured that he had broken his leg or something minor and at the worst it was going to be a whooping big fee for the evacuation.
The Banquet was anything but a celebration. Everyone was very subdued and in no mood for a rowdy good time. My “Master of Ceremonies” speech was short, stilted and totally unacceptable. I wanted to thank John Fetz for all of his help and recognise the famous pilots among us and have everybody stand and introduce themselves. None of that happened. I think I said something inane about this being the “Holy Grail” and looking forward to seeing everybody again next year.
After dinner I went with Mark back to the airstrip to retrieve my truck and 30 minutes later when I got to the campground, Ky rushed over and said, ” The Guy…He Dead. I couldn’t believe it, then he repeated “He Dead… Man” and I thought I was going to be sick. How could this happen? Everything was going so well. It was hard to accept, nobody saw an accident. There were no sirens or flashing lights, everybody I had been partying with was still here. From all appearances everything was just as it should be. How could somebody be dead?
Chris Page and Andy MCavin were sitting at a picnic table with several pilots talking about the conditions and what might have happened to bring Martin down. I sat and listened for awhile but it was hard to sit still. I wandered from group to group not saying much, just making an appearance and gauging their emotions.
The Colorado Springs guys were very quiet. At Alex’s trailer I found Ky with Alex reviewing the footage of Alex tangling with the rotor. Lon only got part of it, one bounce up and then seeing him land on the downstroke, just enough to show the severity of the turbulence. I know Alex was thinking…”That could have just as easily been me”. Mathew and Kevin were just sitting quietly and when I asked if they were planning to fly in the morning, Kevin who is by far the most experienced aviator said, “No, when somebody dies that’s it, I won’t be flying tomorrow.
Martin had been Mo’s student, he was feeling a mixture of guilt, confusion, anger…but most of all sadness because he had come to know Martin and his family well during the last year. He had been down to the crash site and met with the Navajo Tribal Police, they were going to go to the crash site the next day to clean up and try to ascertain what had happened. I appreciate that he made a point of telling me that I was not to blame ….Martin was the “Pilot in Command”.
Later after I had gone to bed, Craig came in after spending time with Martin’s wife and son. He had a memory stick of photographs that one of the spectators had taken. There was some discussion of what to do with the pictures. Craig though we should erase the stick before Martin’s son could ask for them. He was was worried that the photos would do more damage than good and we agreed. But…if there were pictures and possibly video of the incident, it would be valuable data that might prevent someone else from making the same mistake. Eventually curiosity won out and I booted up the laptop and we opened the files. The pictures were a bunch of nice shots of Martin Flying but there were no indications of turbulence or shots of the accident. There were some other files with pictures of the accident site but none of us needed or wanted to see Martin’s broken body. The police had copies and that was enough.

Monument Valley Debrief

The wind blew consistently all afternoon and we could see some serious weather building in the west.

In the words of one pilot, “I think we are going to be snookered this afternoon”.
But… Your not fishing unless your bait is in the water, and so at 4:45 the whole lot of us went down to the airstrip. The wind was 10 to 15 from the south and you could see by watching the flag at the top of the mesa that it was blowing much stronger aloft. Chris broke out the toys and was entertaining us by buzzing around the airfield on his scooter and shooting off a potato cannon.

John Fetz was holding court on a tailgate and the hanger stories were getting older and hairier by the minute. I drifted from one group to another enjoying the moment and watching the skies. As the sun got lower the wind started to abate, we were watching a fairly large cumulus building to the east, a couple of miles past the entrance to Monument Valley and although it was building, it was down wind and moving away from us. At 5:30 or a quarter to 6 the flag on the top of the mesa started to slow way down and soon after, Mo launched in almost no wind conditions. We watched him do a couple of laps around the LZ and there was no question that the air was flyable.

The scramble was on…

Everybody started laying out their wings, Johnny Fetz set up to launch to the south using the runway. He is still trying to “dial in” the buggy, (it can be configured to use either a Delta Wing, Paraglider, or Land Sail), and the thrust line was playing hell with his wing so he never got off the ground. I watched several guys launch including an exciting takeoff by one trike pilot who followed his wing around until he was pointed directly at a beautiful little Citation. He managed to pop it up before it got too hairy, but I was holding my breath the whole time. No harm no done and from the look on his face I could tell the lesson was learned.

A few minutes later the wind was a 4 to 5 mph from the South East so I laid out in that direction and took off. It wasn’t glassy but it wasn’t bad either. I went a mile or so East of the LZ and played around keeping an eye to Monument Valley where the skies were grey all the way to the horizon. After about 45 minutes I came back and started my approach at the far north end of the runway. It was probably the best landing I have ever had, I was 5 feet up when I crossed the end of the runway and with just the slightest brake pressure I managed to stay at that height or lower all the way to the helicopter pads, at least half a mile. Since the runway slopes up from the north I was climbing just slightly the whole way. When I touched down I kept the wing up and taxied to the apron turned off the runway and collapsed the wing. Man, it felt good! Lon was filming and I really looked forward to reviewing my little triumph on video.

Just a minute or two after I landed I watched Alex come in from the North East, He was obviously in some pretty rowdy air and I saw him being swung from side to side. At 50 feet he was hit by a rotor and bounced up at least 50 feet and just as fast as he went up I watched him come down then back up again. He managed to land on his feet during the next downstroke narrowly missing the fence at the end of the apron. I spoke with him later that evening, he said that was the most active piloting he has ever done and the most scared he has ever been in the air and I believe it. In all the DVDs and hundreds of times to the field I have never seen rotor bounce anybody so dramatically. I thought he was going to come down hard and at the very least break legs and wreak his equipment.

Video of Alex in the Gust & Rotor

It is a little over 2 minutes but worth seeing. At 30 seconds listen and you will hear Mo Sheldon commenting on the weather and urging people to secure their wings. Followed by Alex getting caught in the gust front.


here is a link to The Pikes Peak PPG Club website

Shortly after that, Chris Page played it smart and came in at the far North end of the runway. Wow ! It was amazing how fast everything went to hell. One minute I’m patting myself on the back for a sweet landing and the next minute guys are dropping out of the sky in emergency landings.

Thirty minutes later everybody had packed and left for the Banquet, I had lost my keys somewhere and was wandering around the runway apron looking for them when Bill Rowe drove up and told me that we had a pilot down and he had received a text asking for medical attention.

Barton George is Killed in Mid Air Collision

Report on Barton’s Incident

From Bubba:
No one will ever really know exactly what happened the day Barton died. There will be a report posted on the USPPA site. But, here, after much discussion by those of us that were there, think happened.It took two simultaneous mistakes for this accident to happen. Both pilots were in the pattern. One pilot was trying to adjust his radio to find the right channel for the clinic instructor. Someone had given him the wrong channel to monitor. The other pilot simply turned onto his base leg without clearing first. If either pilot had been alert, this tragedy never would have happened. The higher pilot looked up from his radio equipment to late and found the other’s wing in his lap. He pushed the wing off his lap and then pushed the remaining lines off, hoping that the lower pilot’s wing would re-inflate as it fell. There was enough altitude for this to happen. Unfortunately, when the lower pilot fell free, he fell backward into his wing. As he did, he pulled full throttle and ate his wing and fell to his death. The other pilot, fortunately, recovered and landed.In the 14 years that this sport had been in North America, only one other major mid-air collision has been reported and both pilots survived with minor injuries. That’s a pretty good record when you compare hang gliding, free flight paragliding and other ultralight sports. PPG is still the safest way to take to the air. So safe, in fact, that it appears we may have become complacent.This should be a serious wake up call for all of us. First, always be aware of the air space around you. Above, below and to both sides. If you need to remove your hands from the toggles to perform some task, first check the air space. You may need to fly away to a clear area first. Never do this in the pattern. Second, always clear the air in the direction you intend to turn before you do.

USPPA Incident Report

General Information:
Fatal Midair Collision
Date: 10/09/2006Time: 0800
Location: Albuquerque, NMPilot
Age: 40
Gender: Male
Pilot weight (without motor): 150 US Pounds
Rating: None Experience: Less Than 10 Hours Solo
Incident: Collision with Other Aircraft/Ultralight Primary
Cause: Pilot Error
Inflight Contributing Distractions: Radio Transmission
Windspeed: Light (Less than 5 MPH)
Wind Type: Variable Thermal Conditions: Light (Less than 300 FPM)
Visibility: 6+
Surface: Dirt or Small Rocks
Terrain: Flat Site Elevation: 5300 (feet above sea level)Phase of Flight: Cruise Purpose of Safety Gear Used: Helmet
Communications: Two-way Radio w/ Helmet Mike & PTT
Damage to Pilot’s Equipment: Severe (Greater than 20% of New Price) Wing: DHV 1Motor: n/r
Injury InformationPilot: Fatal

Narrative: While flying a morning session of practice and general familiarity, a collision occured between two powered paraglider pilots. Pilot Y was flying a yellow wing in an east direction, climbing slowly and in a shallow turn to the right. Pilot B was flying a blue wing in an east-southeast direction, straight and level. Pilot Y was to the North (left of) pilot B and they converged on a generally southeast course. They were about a half-mile from the field, east of the pattern in use, and heading away from the field. Pilot B says that he looked around then looked down to change radio frequencies and when he looked back up he was upon the yellow wing which was turning towards him. The middle of the yellow wing hit his feet and tangled in pilot B’s body/motor. The yellow wing hung up, slowing him down and causing the blue wing to surge forward. Pilot B emerged headed down steeply, pulled the brakes hard to recover from the dive at about 50 feet. The force pulled Pilot Y’s wing sideways forces which likely whipped pilot Y upward and sideways, causing him to fall into his wing. He hit the ground from this condition, wrapped up in the wing. Pilot B landed immediately, essentially unhurt. Others arrived soon after to administer CPR but Pilot Y could not be revived.

No one will ever really know exactly what happened the day Barton died. There will be a report posted on the USPPA site. But, here, after much discussion by those of us that were there, think happened.It took two simultaneous mistakes for this accident to happen. Both pilots were in the pattern. One pilot was trying to adjust his radio to find the right channel for the clinic instructor. Someone had given him the wrong channel to monitor. The other pilot simply turned onto his base leg without clearing first. If either pilot had been alert, this tragedy never would have happened. The lower pilot looked up too late and found the other’s wing in his lap. He pushed the wing off his lap and then pushed the remaining lines off, hoping that the lower pilot’s wing would re-inflate as it fell. There was enough altitude for this to happen. Unfortunately, when the lower pilot fell free, he fell backward into his wing. As he did, he pulled full throttle and ate his wing and fell to his death. The other pilot, fortunately, recovered and landed.In the 14 years that this sport had been in North America, only one other major mid-air collision has been reported and both pilots survived with minor injuries. That’s a pretty good record when you compare hang gliding, free flight paragliding and other ultralight sports. PPG is still the safest way to take to the air. So safe, in fact, that it appears we may have become complacent.This should be a serious wake up call for all of us. First, always be aware of the air space around you. Above, below and to both sides. If you need to remove your hands from the toggles to perform some task, first check the air space. You may need to fly away to a clear area first. Never do this in the pattern. Second, always clear the air in the direction you intend to turn before you do.