16 Feb 2018

High Fliers

From Country Life, 9:30 pm on 16 February 2018

Mount Murchison is the 101st highest mountain in New Zealand at nearly 1,500 metres and, in a week in late January, its peak was the jump-off point for pilots at the 2018 Hang Gliding Nationals.

During the racing, gliders soared up to 9000 feet into the sky and travelled for three to four hours a day over some breathtaking Tasman scenery.

Pilot safety is top priority for competition co-organiser and keen 'glidie' Shane McKay, who says injuries are most likely to happen during take-off and landing. "I think that the only thing dangerous in this sport is the ground" but if a pilot does tumble it is normally "no worse than a bad rugby tackle I would say as far as injury goes."

Hang gliders are equipped with reserve parachutes in their harnesses.

"If the glider happens to break up in the air which is a rare occurrence you can pull the parachute and you and the wing go down together, it's quite a large parachute" explains veteran pilot Rod Stuart, who has been competing at the Nationals for over 40 years.

Changing weather conditions meant that pilots didn't always reach their goal (the daily race destination) so there were many improvised landings onto local farmland.

Sheep and cows don't seem to mind the distraction but pilots try and avoid deer, horses and bulls as well as paddocks with trees and power lines.

Hang glider Maya Korth, the only women flying at the Nationals, had her first cross country landing on day three.

"I lost a bit of height coming over and then I tried to find it on some of the ridges around that area but couldn't find any lift, so I just circled around until I found a nice wee paddock and then came into land, I forgot to flare but that's alright, I landed!

She was picked up shortly after by her support crew.

The final race day was a 120 kilometre run from the top of Mount Murchison to Springs Junction and back to Murchison.

Shane McKay was the only pilot who made goal, but the overall winner was John Smith who retained his National Champion status, making it four in a row.

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