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Paragliding Dangers

Yes, there are paragliding dangers to be aware of, this should come as no surprise! It is an 'adventure sport' after all.

If you have trawled around this site much already, you will realize that it's all about accurate information. I do my best. And it's designed to appeal to those who either love flying, or would love to try it.

The purpose of this page is to look at the two worst paragliding dangers, even though they rarely crop up in actual flying if you're careful to avoid them.

Just so it's all there in the back of your head for the future.



Strong Thermals

The stats tell us that the biggest real physical danger paraglider pilots face are strong thermals in the wrong place and/or at the wrong time. No probs dealing with a half-collapsed canopy at 1000 m (3000 ft) but what about when you're 10 seconds or so from touching down? Different story, you are too low to throw your reserve and also too low to fully recover the situation. You wish you had a giant pillow strapped to your butt. So landing during the strongest part of the day definitely has its risks.

Similarly, thermals coming off a ridge can cause problems. You don't want to be too close to the deck while thermals are popping. At the other end of the scale, a coastal slope site is perfectly safe at almost any altitude in the smooth laminar airflow coming in from the ocean. You just have to judge for yourself how close is 'safe', considering the prevailing weather and the ridge you are on. Local knowledge would surely help here as well. Ask the locals before you go ridge-hugging at a new site, in light air.

I can recall a ridge-flying incident from my gliding days where a pilot actually stalled a sailplane into Lochiel ridge, South Australia. He was a skilled pilot so it's possible that a bit of thermal turbulence tipped the balance and put him in an impossible-to-recover situation. Mind you, this guy had an attitude problem. He was prepared to ridge-soar lower and slower than anyone else in the club. And he ended up severely damaging his machine, thankfully without injury to himself.



Windy Conditions

Now for the second biggest of the two main paragliding dangers. Again according to the accident stats, very windy conditions can be a problem.

This one should be instinctively clear for anyone really. Even at an easy coastal site, there will be problems if you insist on launching in a breeze that is too strong for your combination of skills and equipment. Inflation is trickier in a strong breeze, and there is also the risk of getting 'blown back' behind the ridge, into rotor turbulence.

Even at a flat cliff-top site, there is an area downwind of launch that may contain rotor airflow. You don't wont to fly through that during a top landing! In a very strong breeze, you might drift backwards into rotor while facing directly into wind. Don't forget, once you climb a bit at a ridge site, the wind speed increases markedly.

Finally, landings are risky in strong wind. If your touchdown isn't perfect you could end up being dragged along the ground, fumbling for your hook knife...

Let's look at some other implications of flying in strong wind. Any big object can produce rotor turbulence, for example large trees or buildings. So you don't want to pass through the lee-side of these objects when close to the ground. Minimizing these paragliding dangers gets down to approach planning and assessing wind direction from the air.

One other aspect of strong wind should be mentioned here. Gusts. Now the strongest gusts I've personally encountered were during a certain Christmas Day years ago when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin. There is some evidence of gusts up to 480 kph (300 mph) during that rather windy night. Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Supposing you are prepared to fly in a certain average strength of breeze. If gusts are present, you have to lower that limit a bit. If the gusts get stronger, you need to lower that limit even more.

I've never had the pleasure of doing any real mountain soaring yet. But apparently you have to set even lower maximum wind speeds to minimize paragliding dangers for that kind of flying.


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