Without doubt the most frightening experience I`ve had with a paraglider !!


By Frode Halse 


Challenging conditions and gliders are minor safety problems compared to pilot error. Years of flying gives no insurance against terrible mistakes. These tend to occur when one least expects them to. This happened on what seemed to be just another great flying in St. Andre les Alpes. It's a privilege to be around to tell the tale!


September 95.
I'm about to take off from the west face launch site of the Chalvet. Thermal activity is peaking, hang- and paragliders set off in hoards and fly off with ease. My objective is to do an out and return to Dormillouse together with a couple of Norwegian friends. The others have already started, I had better get going! Getting ready to reverse launch in the strong thermal wind, I pull on the risers. The canopy inflates perfectly. Quickly I turn around because a strong tug on the risers signals a vertical take-off.

 From this moment on, any resemblance to earlier flights ceases, and the ultimate nightmare begins. Moving vertically I experience a weird sensation. The safe enclosure of the harness is not there, I am falling! Instinctively I throw both arms around the riser-sets. A moment later, 20-30 m agl, I realise my predicament. I had forgotten to fasten my thigh straps, and so I cling to the harness. It is already too late to jump down and I am not able to make a controlled descent. Mortification, shame and anger sweep through my mind but are quickly replaced with a deep concern. You will not survive, what a ridiculous way to die ....

Heavy traffic over weastern launch Mtg.Chalvet. Photo: Frode Halse <<At the western launch of Chalvet.

My ascending rate is 4-5 m/s, pushing me 300 m above the Chalvet before I manage to manoeuvre out of the thermal. But there is no time to enjoy the view, my life depends on immediate action. 
Alternatives race through my head, B-stalling is useless as I would have to hang by the B-raisers with my entire bodyweight and inevitably lose my grip before landing. To throw the reserve is out of the question simply because I cannot reach the handle on the back section of the harness. Feeling the edge of the seat aginst my shoulders, I consider lifting myself up into it, but reject the idea because if the attempt fails I will fall. 
What about 360's? The centrifugal force might throw me out of the harness but what the hell, something has to be done! Carefully spiralling I shed some meters but then hit turbulence, counter-steer too much because of my low arm-position and enter into a negative spin. Clumsy efforts at recovering result in a variety of deflations, eventually followed by an abrupt reinflation that makes the canopy shoot forward and under me. At the very last second I apply full brakes, then tumble down, 

passing the leading-edge by only a few centimeters! Consequently, all lines are violently stretched almost tearing me away from the harness. 
Virtually hanging by my fingertips, I fight for a better grip, lifting myself up by one arm and then the other. This exercise is exhausting and saps the strength in my arms even more.
All right, if I am not able to generate sink, I will have  to go and find it! I fly to the southeastern slope of Chalvet. Arms weakening dangerously, I have to let go of the left brake line. Grabbing the right wrist with my left hand, I lock my arms around the raisers, thus preventing me from falling. 
Hanging like this, I permanently dismiss the illusion that one lives forever. 
For the moment the odds grant me merely minutes and seconds!

The route.

The route to survival


Over the radio I hear the carefree chatting of my friends. They have flown some kilo-meters to the north and are in blissful ignorance of my crisis. 
I cannot reach the transmission button and it thoroughly annoys me being deprived of saying "goodbye".
They cannot help in any case, but hearing the voices of people I care for has a positive effect. It strenghtens my will to survive; I will miss having a couple of beers with them tonight!

                   Reconstruction of the hanging position, authentic pilot and gear.

On the leeside I get tossed around, only being able to correct with the right brake line. "Resting" my chin on the chest strap, my head is bent backwards giving me a good view of the canopy's movements. To get a glimpse of the ground, though, is very difficult. But at last I'm descending, going down 2-7 m/s in leeside rotors. I welcome the blessing of every massive deflation and am ever willing to crash into the mountain slope just to avoid a free fall. The lesser of two evils.

Having lost 900 m, I'm 100 m above the valley floor close to the little village 
La Mure
. My arms are totally numb and the armlock is relentlessly slipping. -Don't give in, I shout to myself, desperately trying to maintain the grip. 
Steering is difficult, but I manage to avoid two powerlines and a concrete building. With a strong tail-wind, I have to land in a turn, crashing through a tree, hitting a telegraph pole and eventually biting the dust on the road. 
Fifteen minutes of horror is over.
Despite a torn muscle in my left thigh (the telegraph pole) and a ripped flying suit, I am very happy, disregarding the pain and smiling to the astonishment of some local spectators.

Before leaving for Norway the next day, I buy a T-shirt inscribed with what had previously seemed stupid but now made absolute sense: "I survived Saint André-les-Alpes"!!

The explanation for this incident is simple but nevertheless inexcusable. Slipping into the harness, I was ready to do the final pre-flight check. Cross country pilots carry an increasing number of technical equipment during flight, and the way this equipment is organised depends upon the individual. To ensure that I wouldn't forget anything (!!!), I first attached the compass, the hook knife and the map holder to the chest strap and locked it. I then went on to check the vario, the radio and the camera. Eager to catch up with the others, I set off forgetting to lock the thigh straps. A blunder not apparent to me as the map covered my groin.

Making it a rule to always begin putting on the harness by locking first the thigh then the chest straps, would prevent similar reoccurrences. In other words; back to the basics!

 If you ever get trapped in the same type of situation: React!! Time is short and a miracle is not going to happen. Don't allow yourself to be overpowered by fear. Stay focused on finding and accomplishing a solution to the problem.

I did!

                     (Previously published in Cross Country 43/1996)


Jérôme Daust explains a technique to get into the seat if you are hanging under: Forgot_to_Fasten_Leg_Straps 
If you are hanging very deep, barely by the armpits like I did, this technique might be difficult/impossible to accomplish. You might loose your grip in the attempt. But if it is the best option it is better to try than to die.. but do it early, before your strength is gone.


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