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Old 03-03-2016, 11:39 AM
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Default Snowkiting Gliding Fatality

I regret posting this but hope the account may help kiters in the future. Condolences to family and friends on this tragic loss.

Summary

On January 23, 2016 a Saturday at approximately 12:30 PM a man in his later 50ís suffered a fatal gliding accident while snowkiting on Bald Mountain in Wyoming.


Bald Mountain is near the Wyoming - South Dakota state lines.

It has been estimated that he had been kiting for about two years and was interested in advancing in gliding particularly pulling big air using kiteboarding gear. He had attended a snowkiting summit on the same mountain in December 2015.


Gliding

The snowkiting summit was intended to advance the practice of snowkiting, to allow snowkiters to meet one another and exchange ideas. He was familiar with backcountry snow operations from his work.


Bald Mountain varies in elevation between 10,000 ft. at the highest point of the mountain and around 9300 ft. NGVD at the base.

The wind's were light less than 15 mph, blowing up the slope roughy from a southwest direction. There was some ridge lift evident with a high thin cloud layer. The temperature was about 32 F and warming with a major snow fall in recent days but no snow on this day.

The man was observed to be doing a couple 200 ft. long or less glides off small shoulders gaining less than 15 feet off the ground typically. The demands of this scale of flying seemed to be generally within his abilities and experience based upon observer comments. He was flying a 15 m new LEI or "tube" kite.


The area of Terminal B on Bald Mountain.

After lunch one well experienced snowkiter glider went up to the upper ranges of the mountain on a snowmobile to the area of "Terminal B." They kited from that point up to the area of the cornice of the mountain. The man kited up to the same launch area at the top of the mountain. This was substantially higher than where he was kiting earlier in the day and was advanced terrain for gliding. He was approximately 140 feet above where the snowmobiles were parked. There was a long gradual slope between those two points.


A Google Earth view some the rough locations and approximate elevations of the summit launch (9590 ft.), accident area (9450 ft.) and snowmobile parking area (9330 ft.).

The well experienced snowkiter had launched, looked back and noticed the man had just launched and was in a slow rotation. The well experienced kiter then lost sight of him. Another kiter (also an EMT) was about 300 ft. away and heard a kite rushing through the air to slam hard into the ground. Another kiter looking overhead noticed the man's kite off to his side as he was falling rapidly about 30 to 40 ft. above the surface. His kite should have been positioned to near overhead for stable flight. The wind had blown substantial snow cover away exposing bare areas of hard frozen ground where the kiter struck.

The EMT-kiter was seconds from where the kite and victim had impacted and rushed over to aid the man first hitting the quick release of both of their kites. The kiter-EMT asked that the another kiter who had come up to call for emergency medical assistance and yet another to retrieve a first aid kit if present on the sleds. They were well in the back country delaying easy, rapid response by ground-based emergency services. The kiter-EMT arrived did a primary assessment during the course of which the man stopped breathing. The kiter-EMT started CPR and continued for approximately 45 minutes. First responders arrived at the site by snowmobile within one hour from about 12 miles away after they were called at which time the kiter-EMT turned the man over to them. The exertion required for 45 minutes of CPR was very substantial particularly considering the 9000 ft.+ altitude. The kiter-EMT hung in, not willing to give up despite working to near total exhaustion to their credit. The man died at the site as a result of major impact trauma. The man was later transported to a hospital by a medevac helicopter.


Analysis

Based upon the limited information available it has been concluded that the man may have caught a ski edge as he left the surface putting himself into rotation. He may have panicked and pulled excessively hard on one side of the bar driving the kite downward, losing his lift and sending himself hard into the surface. Another possible explanation is that once the kiter leaves the surface, his skis will "weather vane" cross to the apparent wind. This can result in more rapid rotation but is thought to not have been the cause in this instance.

Once the kite leaves the vertical and upward momentum of the kiter dissipates they will fall at speed. It is important to maintain lift when gliding well off the ground usually with the kite overhead and largely undisturbed to aid stable flight. The kite was seen to be low and off to the side of the kiter prior to impact. Snowkiters on skis may rotate around the bar to correct for the backward pull of the kite when leaving the surface. This reverses the normal bar response, e.g. pulling right turns the kiter left vs. what may be the more accustomed direction. This bar rotation may have been a source of confusion and rapid loss of kite control.

Some expert kiters have concluded that his judgment was poor in electing to go to the top of the mountain at his ability level. The demands and inherent substantial risks of higher altitude gliding are not to be underestimated although it can be easy to not fully appreciate all the risks. Kiting can seem to be deceptively easy and harmless until something goes seriously wrong. Unconfirmed reported diabetes and indications of low blood sugar might have contributed to this poor judgement. If present, this might have also compromised his ability to effectively respond to the emergency after launch.

The manís kite, bar, lines and quick releases were examined for proper function. They were found to be properly inflated, correct and working properly. He was wearing a substantial climbing harness in lieu of a weaker kiteboarding harness as is becoming more common among snowkiters.
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transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 03-04-2016 at 02:06 PM.
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Old 03-03-2016, 11:40 AM
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Commentary

This accident appears to have been a case of poor choices including launching so high in the first place and pilot error. Pilot error appears to have resulted in poor kite control leading to loss of sufficient lift and a fatal impact with the ground. There was very little time and altitude available to try to correct this situation and attempt to fly out of it. Without extensive training and experience the odds of such a correction happening were low.

Gliding or soaring at altitude over land or hard, unyielding surfaces with kiteboarding gear is inordinately dangerous given the harm it can cause upon accidental impact. "Altitude" as used in this application would mean a height at which serious injury might occur from. Depending on circumstances this height may be only a few feet, even less over hard terrain. Exacting, correct kite control is essential as this sad accident underscores. There is no pulling a Quick Release to manage a problem aloft, successfully flying out of problems is a primary solution. Weaknesses in the gear and sudden failure potential in this setting can present the pilot with dangerous situations which he can't control. Some are trying to improve the serviceability and durability in a few of the kite system components but have been unable to address all excessively vulnerable aspects of the kite system. Risk is increased by the lack of specific training and gaining essential knowledge about flying, weather, mechanical turbulence, launch, landing area considerations. Currently, there are few kiteboarders engaged in gliding and a short list with a high degree of aptitude. So, the comments in this analysis apply to a fairly small number of the current overall kiteboarding population. Still, interest may be growing to try gliding hence the expanded commentary on this practice as it appears to exist today.

Paragliding and hang gliding have been around for many decades and require proper training, certification, maintenance of a log book and use of safety gear developed over a long time from numerous severe accidents. You might have system failures and may still have a chance of returning to earth in one piece with hang gliding and paragliding gear given redundancies, established procedures and safety systems. Paragliding or hang gliding are the logical choices for flying high over land for many reasons. You can still be badly hurt in these activities as well, the probability if properly pursued is simply less than with kiteboarding gear when used in similar settings.

Kiteboarding gear isn't designed for this type of service, numerous system components can potentially break particularly under the major loads this activity brings. In 18 years of kiting I have had multiple failures of most components of the kiting system over water many of which could have resulted in an out of control fall to earth and serious injury or death over land. Quite a few of these failures happened during jumps or when I was escaping gravity. Over water such failure often isn't that great of a problem. In fairnesses, high speed impacts against water have also caused injury over the years, notably in extreme conditions in the recent King of the Air competition in South Africa.

Regarding existing kite system performance, you may have only four kite retention lines with many kites, if any one breaks or associated pigtails, bridles or leader lines fail, you may fall at high speed to the surface. If the kite tears, loses bladder pressure, your chicken loop, spreader bar, ends or harness break, again you may well fall at speed to the surface. You don't have to be that high above a hard or unyielding surface to suffer major trauma upon impact particularly if falling at speed.

There is little redundancy in conventional kiteboarding gear and virtually no functional safety systems in common use in kiting which might aid a glider pilot in a crisis while aloft. There are emergency parachutes for hang gliding/paragliding that might work but they require a minimum elevation above the ground to have sufficient time and space to be deployed. This amounts to hundreds of feet of altitude potentially. A variety of factors govern the successful use of emergency parachutes, deploying one doesn't assure proper function and a safe descent.

The long flight lines in kites compared to paragliding rigs also introduce potential control, stability and correction issues. It can take more time and drop in altitude to correct a flight problem with a kite setup vs. a paraglider rig with much shorter lines.

Gliding with kiteboarding gear may appear easier and more doable than it actually is in the long term. People can be easily deceived by the apparent simplicity. This has been a problem in water-based kiteboarding for many years as well.

Some people may attempt gliding with kiteboarding gear over land despite the obvious hazards and likely severity of injury should things go wrong. In the case of hang gliding and paragliding, a national training organization was created for proper flier training and certification. This essential training in flight theory, weather, emergency management, safety systems, hands on flying in tandem and solo, take off, landing, flaring, reserve chute deployment, etc. etc. had a huge impact on accidents and fatalities and still does today. Where is this information and formal training available for kiters who glide? Given the current low numbers of kiteboarders interested in this activity and the inherent hazards using gear never intended for such service and related liabilities it seems unlikely that a formal training organization to certify kiters will be in the offing anytime soon.

Anyone contemplating gliding with kite gear at dangerous altitude or over hard, unyielding surfaces should accept that such a choice could readily result in their death or severe injury regardless of their approach and preparation. Severe accidents can happen at any altitude but the higher up you are, the harder you may fall obviously enough. People who have been gliding for a while advise; learning slowly with willing qualified mentors, taking a slow "crawl, walk, run" approach in trying to master basic to more challenging tasks and not leaping ahead too quickly. Learning on your own may well see you in the papers as a news worthy accident. Gaining USHGA/USPGA certification to at least the second level would be a good thing. They also advise staying LOW over an adequate depth of soft snow terrain to where a fall won't cause injury. They described skimming the surface in this approach. If the terrain isn't soft and deep enough, don't glide they said. Some have said no matter how tempting and "easy" flying high over the land may seem, just don't do it. If you want to fly at altitude, many have said to train and become certified to paraglide or hang glide and use that equipment. Some object to the cost and mandatory training/certification in these activities. If you die or become seriously disabled as a result of an avoidable accident, such objections can fade to insignificance. I became certified to hang glide in the early 1990's, before kiting, and learned a great deal about essential theory, applied knowledge, hands on flying, dealing with emergencies and still more. I can't imagine flying over land without similar knowledge, whatever the activity. Knowledge is power and may help you to avoid some problems you might otherwise fall into.

I wanted to emphasize that these considerations apply to kite gear gliding or soaring over snow, dunes, cliffs as well as static (tethered man-lifting) and dynamic (boat, trike, winch) tow-ups. Whatever activity aside from normal kiteboarding water or surface traction kiting activities for which the gear has been designed.


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transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 03-04-2016 at 10:37 AM.
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