It’s a beautiful sight to see, but you just know an accident is going to happen one day. Paragliders fill the skies above the cliffs at Torrey Pines Gliderport on the sunny Pacific shores of San Diego.
The accident that untrained observers fear actually happened on August 8. A mid-air collision of two paragliders occurred, with one of the two pilots seriously injured.
La Jolla Village News reported the accident on the front page of its August 19th edition. The report did not reveal the names of the two paraglider pilots but did say that the more seriously injured fellow would be okay. The two collided in the crowded skies at Torrey Pines when one of the paraglider wings tangled with the feet of another pilot. He then lost control of his wing and fell against the cliff.
Paragliders flying at Torrey Pines is an incredible sight. Soaring the skies are not only paragliders, but also hang gliders, RC (radio-controlled) airplanes, and sailplanes (another term for a full-fledged glider). With all those airfoils drifting the blue at Torrey Pines, casual observers wonder how they manage to avoid one another.
Whatever the form, flying is as safe as it can possibly be at Torrey Pines. Paragliders are required to have the full complement of paragliding training and must earn the P3 certification to fly there specifically. USHPA (U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) conducts the training programs and issues the certifications. You can be an accomplished paraglider pilot, but if you don’t have the P3, you won’t fly at Torrey Pines.
Wind and weather conditions at Torrey Pines are relatively safe as well, especially compared to conditions encountered in mountain soaring. The cliff creates perfect conditions for lift and a constant flow of upward air where the Pacific Ocean meets land.
Good flying conditions bring out the paragliders in droves at Torrey Pines. And while the skies under such conditions become crowded with 20 or more wings in the air, collisions are actually rare occurrences. Frequent fliers at the Gliderport report no collisions in more than 10 years. Last week’s accident unfortunately ended that safety streak. Accidents, when they happen, are usually caused by human error, lapses in attention, misjudgments, or pilot distraction.
Gliderport personnel encourage all who are interested in paragliding to learn to fly at the safe and beautiful Torrey Pines site, while adding, “just bring your brain with you.”
Source: Jenna Frazier, “Paragliding collision raises safety concerns,” La Jolla Village News, August 19, 2010, p.1.