About hang gliding


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I would like to write a few words to try to help people reconcile and explain what happened to Emma last Saturday evening.

There have been reports in the press that suggest that that Emma was having a problem with her glider or was in distress some time prior to her accident. In other words that she knew she was in peril minutes prior.

Let me be very clear, this is totally and utterly false and has caused extreme distress to Emma’s family and friends.

I am not suggesting that there was deliberate misrepresentation or falsification of the facts, simply that the press articles were poorly written and poorly fact checked. I would have hoped for better.

Here is what we know so far from the expert accident investigation.

Emma was competing in the Annual Forbes Flatlands International Hang gliding competition. This competition runs for 8 days and involves more that 60 world class pilots from Australia and overseas. Emma was an advanced pilot and was equal to this task.

The day in question was not a practice day but the second official competition day. The competitor’s in Emma’s group were racing from Forbes airfield, 70 kms north to Peak Hill airfield. Competitors launched by being towed aloft to 2000 feet by a fleet of special tug aircraft and then they used the invisible rising warm air thermal currents to gain as much height as they could before gliding towards their goal looking for another rising lift source on the way as they slowly glided downwards.

In order to get to Peak Hill they would have been expecting to repeat this climbing and gliding process several times over a period of 2-3 hours. All competitors carry special parachutes and have sophisticated electronic equipment with them to help them know when they find rising air and to navigate. They also have radios to communicate with each other and people on the ground. The gliders they fly and well tested and strong.

Emma was nearing the goal at Peak hill but probably needed one or two more good thermals to get there. Unfortunately she was unable to locate the needed thermals and correctly had chosen to land quite routinely in a farmers paddock. The paddock she had selected was ideal, being large, relatively flat and with no obstructions. She would have been aiming her glider into the prevailing breeze (to give as low a landing speed as possible) as she had been taught. Emma was meticulous in her landing approaches and always followed correct procedures.

She had radioed her intention to land just prior to another pilot high above and had indicated that that everything was fine. There was absolutely no indication that she was in any difficulty (if she had been, she was trained to use and would have used her special emergency parachute). There was no suggestion that she was expecting anything other that a routine landing.

It would seem that Emma got into difficulty within the last few seconds of her landing approach and within only a very few meters of the ground. It is presumed that a strong random swirly gust of wind temporarily turned her glider away from pointing into the prevailing wind and before she could turn it back into the wind her glider impacted the ground facing down wind at a shallow angle but unfortunately at a high speed. This has been determined from expert analysis of Emma’s glider and examination of the crash site. Emma would have been immediately rendered unconscious and would have felt no pain.

We are hoping the GPS data logger she was carrying will give some useful data and allow us to see her speed and position over the last 3-6 seconds.

There are no know witnesses to the accident on the ground and no one on the ground called emergency serviced prior to the accident.

The fellow pilot high above did not see the actual landing but within seconds of the landing became concerned when he could not raise Emma on the radio and could see the glider laying in an odd position. He immediately spiraled down, landed, rushed to Emma and began first aid. He had been trained in emergency resuscitation techniques.The emergency services were called immediately by this same pilot with Emma. They were called a second time by an experienced ambulance officer standing next to me at Forbes airport. Her location was known exactly as she was carrying a “SPOT” (gps) tracker and we could see her location on my phone.

The accident investigation is on going and will take a fair amount of time but we would be very surprised if any of the basic details described above change.

If any one needs to talk I am here and happy to chat but please make allowances for my current state of mind given the circumstances.

Peter Holloway.
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