CROOK PEAK INCIDENT - SATURDAY 7TH AUGUST, 1999

From Geoff Rogers:

12.30, Saturday, 7th August saw Derek Target, Dave Yeandle and myself on top of Crook Peak with our paragliders in a light wind 45 degrees off the hill. We sat around chatting in the sunshine for the next hour or so waiting for the wind to come on, watching the queues of traffic stationary on the M5 returning from Devon and Cornwall. The little wind that there was swung further to the SE putting the wind 90 degrees off the hill; we decided a cup of tea was a good idea and attempted to fly down to the cars. Running off the shoulder, 90 degrees to the hill, I was lucky to get airborne and flew down to the landing field by the car park. Derek and Dave packed up and walked back down to the cars.

I arrived at the car to see someone walking up the hill with a paraglider - he must have seen me fly down and we all thought it a strange decision that he bothered to carry up in those conditions. Whilst having our lunch we watched the top of the hill and saw a canopy pop up several times. Eventually the guy got airborne, clipping a bush as he flew away from the hill. He passed over our heads towards the landing field and Dave went to watch him land. The pilot then flew on past the landing field across the river and attempted to land in a field on the far side, beyond a row of trees which was now obscuring our view. The next thing we saw was an almighty flash from the 12,000 volt cables he had flown into; the cables fell to the ground and were arcing; the guy was screaming in agony; the sparks stopped but he was still screaming. I shouted over to him that we had seen what had happened to him and Derek was phoning for an ambulance, and to hang on in there and I would get to him as quickly as I could. The screaming stopped and I feared the worst.

We didn't know how to get across the river. Dave and I drove to the nearest farm to get directions; unfortunately the gates to the fields leading to where the pilot was were padlocked, so we had to run over several fields to get to him. It was possibly 5 to 10 mins before we got to the field where he was, and had not heard any sound from him since his original screams. Expecting to find a body, I could not believe that as I approached he lifted his head and started talking to me. I got to within 10 feet of him and, apart from superficial burns to his left leg and a smell of singed body hair, amazingly he seemed OK. He had brought down all three electric cables that were attached to the poles. He had hit the cables at the lowest point where the cables sag in the middle of the two posts; when he hit the ground the cables parted and fell away from him but his canopy was covering all three cables to one side of him.

I knew that the circuit breakers that knock out the supply could fire in again and was concerned for the pilot's and my own safety. I asked him if he could crawl to where I was standing, which he did. We chatted for a few minutes when there was another almighty bang and arcing - the circuit breakers had fired in again and shorted across his canopy setting it on fire in the process; is this guy LUCKY or what?!?! The ambulance arrived possibly 20 to 30 minutes after the accident and carted the casualty off to hospital - he was allowed home later that evening. I was waiting in the field for the Fire Brigade and Electric Company to turn up when Dave returned after helping with the ambulance. I was just explaining to Dave about the circuit breakers firing in and out when they fired in again - if you have never seen cables arcing on the ground it's not somewhere you want to be (!) so we went to the road to help the Fire Brigade and Electric Company find their way. I left SWEB there making the cables safe and returned later, possibly 2hrs after the accident, to try to retrieve what was left of the pilots flying gear, but the cables were still not safe. So be warned - if you see someone bring down cables, assume that those cables are live hours after the incident. I am sure that after 15 minutes or so of the pilot hitting the cables I would have assumed that it would have been safe to help him, which could well have ended up with both of us being killed.

Site Officer's Note: You have been warned - ANYTHING is better than hitting power cables.

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