20 Sep 2017

Paragliders risking lives for social media - Association

4:36 pm on 20 September 2017

The Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association says pilots are taking more risks so they look good on social media - but it's hard to prove.

A paraglider with the Earth below his feet.

A paraglider with the Earth below his feet. Photo: 123rf

The Civil Aviation Authority has reported the highest number of deaths in the April to June quarter in 14 years, after six people died in five accidents.

Two involved paragliders and three were microlight crashes.

The authority said it was alarmed that most of the accidents were caused by human error.

A paraglider was killed when they hit a barrier in the Port Hills, and another died in Queenstown when their canopy collapsed while trying to do an aerobatic move, smashing into a school building.

During the same period two paragliders suffered serious injuries and another was hurt after crashing in Banks Peninsula.

Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association president Evan Lamberton said the sport was becoming more popular.

"Putting that into perspective they are the first fatalities we have had in about five years since 2012, and we've started measuring the flying activity of our pilots, we believe the accident rate is falling compared to the amount of activity."

Mr Lamberton said pilots choose the level of risk they want to take - he said there was everything from regular paragliding to speedflying, a smaller glider that allows the pilots to fly closer to the ground.

"Two fatalities in one season is something of concern, it makes us look at safety again but what we know about those two accidents is that the pilots were pursuing activities that we would consider at the higher risk end of what we do."

Mr Lamberton said more pilots post flights on social media and he feared some were taking higher risks to get a good photo or video.

"Anecdotally, yes, we think we are seeing that but we don't have any stats that back it up - it's just because it is on social media you see more of it. I'm not convinced it's happening more, there's just means of people showing off what they have done.

"There's the other side of the coin where some people may see speedflying videos on YouTube and decide not to do it because it looks dangerous," he said.

The association was hoping to introduce a new reporting system so members of the public and pilots could report anyone performing risky manoeuvres .

Queenstown-based Southern Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club president Tim Brown said something can be learnt from every accident but some people were not reporting incidents, a legal requirement.

"Pilots are responsible for reporting any accidents or incidents that they have had to inform other pilots, they are anonymous, it's just so people can learn from them, the trouble is people are not reporting.

"They are either embarrassed or they don't realise they are required to report under the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association," Mr Brown said.

He said his club was having problems with paragliding pilots from overseas, flying in and around Queenstown without accreditation.

"They might just turn up and think it's an nice day, and because they are only there for a couple of days they go flying. What we are encouraging the local pilots to do is if you see someone you have not seen before then approach them, it's up to them because otherwise the CAA is going to shut down these flying sites.

"There's one well known European paraglider who travels the whole world - he came here last year and just went flying without accreditation. How do you police that when we have such a remote country?," Mr Brown said.

The Civil Aviation Authority said one fatality was one too many and the highest fatality rate for the autumn quarter in 14 years was of serious concern.