Chucking the bag!
Morzine - August 1998

Dave Pilkington wrote (in a contribution to the europg newsgroup)...

Is it that our gliders make us feel invincable these days? A classic case of this was the last day of the comp. We had a strong (for the mountains, but not for UK hills) wind on take-off coming straight up the valley. After waiting for a few hours, the day was canned as being unsafe to set a task, or even to take-off. Despite this, some people took off, and unfortunately one person had to throw his reserve after a massive collapse. I'm not saying these people should not have taken-off, the others were able to fly down safely, but don't blame the comp organisers for this sort of thing as they had made a sensible decision to can it. The general feeling on take-off was that it did not feel right.

This was my reply...

As the pilot who had to throw his reserve after a massive collapse, I've obviously being doing a fair amount of soul-searching since then. On the day in question I was disappointed that the task was canned - I had thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of the comp, and wanted a chance to improve my position. I had been having great fun, the flying was like nothing I had ever experienced - stunning scenery, huge height gains, good thermals (once a few hundred feet above take off), long glides, slow climbs up cliffs... it had everything (and then some)! Maybe on that last day I was feeling invincible (up until then the worst I had experienced was a 30% collapse which caused me no problem), although I don't really think so. As I understood it, the problems on that day were with the valley winds, particularly in Morzine, although the forecast was of high winds at 4000m. I had seen other people take off, some climbing above take off, others choosing to fly straight down. I chose to try to climb, and after gaining approx 400m above the lower windsock (ie. approx 2200m asl) I decided to push down the ridge, into what I thought was a very gentle breeze (it can't have been more than 10kph max). About half way along the ridge I found myself in an extensive area of smooth gentle lift, maybe 100-200fpm. The lift continued for a couple of minutes as I carried on in a roughly straight line at min sink (should this have rung alarm bells - I don't know?) To me it felt very pleasant, and I was just nearing the end of the ridge when WACK, an 80-90% collapse occurred, which evidently reinflated pretty quickly, but in a spin with the risers twisted through at least 360 degrees.

I remember raising my hands up to release any brake pressure, but there must have been some brake locked in the twists because the glider came out of the spin and went into a spiral dive, still with the risers twisted. The spiral became fully locked in and I tried with all my strength to lift my hands up high enough to reach the left brake line above the twist to stall the wing, but the G forces were so huge that I just couldn't do it. It was then that I threw my reserve. People watching from take off reckoned I did approx 15 revolutions with the glider horizontal before I deployed, and I now realise that I left it too long, as I didn't exactly waft down under the reserve for long!

Fortunately I landed in a clearing in the trees, with both the glider and me intact! (Although the reserve suffered some damage from the high speed deployment - friction burn holes and some billowing). Thanks to Tim Brunskill who came to my aid (and suffered worse injuries than me on account of running down the hill in his flying boots - serious blisters!) and to Colin and Erica for picking us both up. Apologies too, for causing a few heart attacks amongst people who witnessed the incident!

Clearly my ultimate mistake was not heeding the advice of the comp organisers, who obviously have a lot more experience of alpine conditions than me. But I wasn't feeling invincible, it was my inexperience that ultimately caused the incident - to me the conditions looked nice, other people were flying and I had had a lovely 15 minute flight until then, so who knows - basically I was in the wrong place at the wrong time! I don't believe the glider (Omega 4 - DHV 2/3) was particularly to blame, or that my actions exaserbated the situation, although obviously I wonder what would have happened if I had been on a DHV 1/2 wing? Maybe it wouldn't have gone into a spin so readily? Maybe the risers wouldn't have got twisted? But I wasn't flying at full speed - I had no speed bar on at the time and was flying with a little brake, and it was a massive collapse, so who knows? Maybe it wouldn't have gone into a spiral dive, but there again it probably would have since there was brake on and the wing was just doing what it was told!

As for alpine/foreign comp flying in the future, well I haven't decided yet, although probably not. Not because I think it's too dangerous, or that I'd be too nervous, but because I couldn't put my wife Lisa through the anxiety whilst staying at home with our young children.

Regarding F1, in principle I believe it's a good idea, but it's got a long way to go and alot of practicalities have to be thrashed out. But at least it's got people talking.

I'll be keeping the Omega 4, but I do have an old Nova Sphinx for sale - any offers?!

Tim Pentreath - Aug 1998