Short Bumpy flight. Paul and I contented ourselves with a little kiting instead.
This Report was compiled from information gleaned from sheriff reports and interviews of eyewitnesses. It also contains information received from pilots who knew and flew with Tony.
PPG accident 18 May 2019 Arcadia, FL
This was 61 year old Tony Littell who passed away in a PPG accident on the 18th morning of May 2019. Tony received initial instruction from USPPA instructor Joe Onofrio between July – September 2016. Tony was signed off to take the USPPA written test though never did. A few weeks later Joe and Tony met. Joe discovered that Tony had been flying on his own. Tony decided not to continue with USPPA training, Instead he self trained.
Bob Harrison a local PPG pilot collected information from another PPG pilot, who arrived minutes after the accident. The other PPG pilot also flew that day in the same area without knowledge of Tony’s flight. He new of but had never flown with Tony. Bob had also collected information from a non-PPG pilot who was an eyewitness to the accident and first on scene.
This is what I assume:
Tony was flying straight and level between 200-300 feet AGL when the left side of the paraglider let go completely. This initiated a high speed vertical descent as noted in the picture showing heavy left side impact damage compared to minimal damage on the right. This supports a rapid descent corroborating the left side of the paraglider released.
I believe the power lines were missed. With only a few seconds before ground impact, Tony removed his reserve and started a toss. You can identify and see in the picture the reserve separate from the paraglider. The PPG pilot that arrived on scene minutes after the accident mentioned the reserve container was about twenty feet away from the paramotor.
I receive a comment from a USPPA instructor who flies a similar unit. He mentioned to Tony over a year ago that the risers were showing excessive wear and should be replaced. He also thought there might be a burr on the CG ring. Another USPPA instructor who flies a similar unit says he found no wear after checking four other wings that had been flown extensively with his unit. Therefore we believe the area causing abrasion had been repaired. It was also known that Tony learned to weld and his machine needed a few repairs since he began flying. Tony had recently ordered new risers which had not been received prior to the incident.
The equipment was impounded by the local Sheriff department and the FAA was contacted for inspection. The FAA said they were not sending anyone to inspect. Instead requesting specific photos to be taken. The sheriff department would not let anyone other than family retrieve or view the equipment. The photos were given only to the FAA and an NTSB Safety Investigator. They were asked and refused to view or share the accident photos. Visual inspection is the best method.
We made contact with the family the day of or after the accident and initially given hope to a visual inspection which turned into a delay which turned into a refusal within a weeks time.
Unfortunately the cause of this accident cannot be determined conclusively because the equipment was impounded and destroyed without a visual inspection, at the insistence of the family. I feel confident if the unit is maintained in its purchased configuration it is a safe PPG.
Things we did not get to visually inspect.
1. Paraglider lines pulled apart A/B/C/D
2. Riser mallions
3. Riser itself
4. Riser loop
5. Carabiner or Turnbuckle bolt backed out?
6. Carabiner attached point
7. Paraglider connection point
9. Weld point
10. Reserve lines pulled apart
11. Reserve attach point
12. Reserve riser or lines pulled apart
I was right. Fly once a month and every flight is a refresher course. This morning the air was butter. The launch was clean and the flight was fun. I worked on trimming out the torque and did some lazy wing overs. The only turbulence I encountered was above 2800ft and again below 200ft where it was cooking off pretty good.
After the flight I spent a good amount of time with post flight. Everything looked good except the reserve bridle needed to be cleaned up. I like the new routing. God forbid I ever need to toss the rags but if I do, I think it will fly clean.
Whenever there is a fatality, it makes you stop and think. One of the the things I’ve taken away from the last two weeks, is…
“Your either a pilot or your not”… and … This once a month stuff, may be enough, to keep my skills current but it’s not enough to enjoy the sport. I need to get out to the field more often or every flight is going to be refresher. I’m sure, part of it is, I’m aging. But, my muscle memory doesn’t seem to work for every little thing, when there are long gaps between flights. For instance today, I noticed a few steps that I didn’t do last time. Nothing important , more like little things that made the experience easier or more fun. Today, my moves were more fluid, during set up and in the air. it was a logical progression, things flowed smoothly from one moment to the next and I didn’t have to stop and think about what I was doing. This morning was a lot more fun than the last two!
When I set the alarm late last night. I didn’t think, I would feel like, dragging ass to the field in the morning. But, at 5:30 I was wide awake and ready to go! The launch was cleaner and the air felt great. Out to the Marina and around the golf course, then back to the Patch and a long slow circle to 2000ft. When I reached cloud base it was cool and I could see patchy areas of Virga. In fact it was pretty fuzzy all over and even the tops of the clouds were lacking definition. I wasn’t taking any bumps and the air felt stable but it wasn’t a day for playing in the clouds so I pulled some asymmetric spirals and dropped to 1000ft. At 40 minutes I landed smoothly with a big grin.
Couldn’t leave the house till 6:30 when Dawn’s alarm went off. At Placida Meadows it was light out of the east.
I set up very deliberately and then, aborted in a most clumsy manner, when I realized that I was wearing my straw cowboy hat instead of my helmet. For just a moment, after I’d pulled the trigger. I considered the odds of letting go the brake and tossing the hat to the side before committing to take off and it might have worked, considering the gentle way the wing kind of hovered overhead after I killed the engine.Oh well… I reset the wing and stumbled into the sky with the glider swinging right and left. It wasn’t pretty but I’d broken the fast.
The motor ran fine. I climbed above a large group of egrets resting in a swampy pond and dove down on them with the sun at my back. They all launched together and immediately split into three parts, left, right and beneath me. As I flew between them they swung around and returned to their spot on the pond. The air was already beginning to lose stability. It was bumpy from the surface to 250 feet and again at 900 feet. At 1200 ft. the onshore breeze was increasing and I could see an army of low puffy cumulus marching inland. The air was calm at Gasparilla Marina but it was beginning to stir up the water on the lee side of Gasparilla Island. After 20 minutes I returned to the truck and landed without drama.
I’m going to have to make an effort to get out more often. Once a month might be enough to keep my skills current but on the ground and in the air I felt anything but sharp. I was tentative on the brakes and to stiff in the saddle. Maybe tomorrow I can get back out and work on the basics.
Both of these were really non flights or aborted flights.
Last week I replaced my gas tank and even though I did a test run and thought everything was good, it was not!
I met Alvaro at the field at 7. There was a small storm to the west so we chatted and waited for it to move on. When the air was clear, we set up. Alvaro got right off and I set up east of him to launch from the street.
The takeoff was fine but at 50 feet just as I was applying power to climb out, the motor started to stutter like it wasn’t getting gas. Luckily I was able to set down at the end of the road. Then I set up again, making sure to run the motor for awhile to check for air bubbles or whatever was causing the problem. It was all good but again at 50 feet, it lost power causing me to set back down. Fuel is flowing and I don’t see any bubbles. Paul said that he heard the motor issues after my angle of attack changed with the front wheel much higher than the back. It’s a mystery I’m going to have to figure out.
This is the first engine issue I’ve had with the Generac after several hundred hours.
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.
Tony Littell suffered a fatal Powered Paraglider Crash this week. He was my student.
We worked together three years ago and he flew regularly. Tony knew the principles of aviation long before we ever met. He had a longtime interest in RC model aircraft. One day when we were working on his gear he showed me his planes and I was impressed with the fit and finish. He also was an experienced falconer. He had a good mechanical mind and “enjoyed figuring it out”. I never doubted his ability to become a good pilot.
He terminated instruction before I could sign him off for PPG1. However, we did cover the entire USPPA Syllabus and we spent several days and many, many hours kiting the wing and ground handling his new Falcon 4 Stroke quad.
I’ll never forget the time I borrowed a trike buddy pusher unit from Leon Wacker. Tony and I shared the cost of freighting the unit in. The idea was for Tony to be able to practice taxiing without the worrying about the prop chewing up his wing. It was a great concept, the trike buddy acted as a pusher that Tony could control the same way he would his Paramotor. He could inflate the wing and run down the field, learning how to dampen oscillation and stabilize the wing overhead before committing to launch. Unfortunately the carburetor on the Harbor Freight motor had an air leak that prevented it from getting up to power. We wasted a beautiful day rebuilding the carb and when we finally got it running, the rains had flooded our fields. Well… that wasn’t going to stop us! We loaded up the equipment and drove out to Shell Creek Airpark. Then….. we spent the morning spinning wheels and throwing rooster tails of mud at my practice wing. I was frustrated to the max but Tony took it with grace. Eventually things dried up and we were able to get some good time at the field. He struggled with slowing down and stabilizing the wing but after several trading days he, “got it” and could inflate the wing and ground handle with confidence.
By October, Tony was well along with his ground handling, he was comfortable with the equipment and ready to fly. We waited On the weather for good day for his solo. When it didn’t happen I apologized and left for a couple of weeks to attend the big fly-in at Monument Valley. Tony was supposed to wait for me to come back to solo but while I was gone, he cracked off his first 7 flights and like that…. Tony was a pilot.
During his first year we flew together several times and I felt good about his skills and progress. We had a few excellent flights together at Placida and I specifically remember one sunset flight when John Sieb was visiting from Colorado. Everybody was grinning ear to ear when we got back from that one.
He, like me….was a soloist, Flying mostly alone. And…when I dropped out of the scene for 9 months after Huricane Irma he racked up an impressive number of flights. By the time I did get back into the air, he had 70 plus, under his belt.
When he had his accident We hadn’t flown together for several months. A couple of times we were going to hook up but it didn’t work out. So…. when I saw the posting from Bob that Tony had been killed after catastrophic equipment failure I was caught by surprise. I’m not going to speculate as to the cause of the accident before having inspected the equipment but from the eye witness report it seems likely that the left side weight support let go. Webbing ? – Carabiner ? – Risers ?
The Memorial Service is tomorrow.
Another good one …. done gone on.
The Boat Pix people sent me this as an apology for wrongly charging my credit card.