Revised March 31, 2004
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000
From: Angus Pinkerton
How many lives could have been saved by better chutes and deployment systems
is surely just as relevant as knowing how many lives have been
saved to date by reserve deployments.
Whilst we know of quite a few cases of lives probably saved by Emergency
parachutes, and give very strong advice to our members to carry them. We
also know in the UK of several cases where a parachute failed, or may have
caused something else to fail, or some other aspect of the emergency parachute
system caused serious problems. These should not be ignored as they seem
to us to be a worryingly high proportion of all deployments.
In Canada, we have had 9 accidental deployments, and several instances
where the pilot was too low to deploy successfuly, one instance resulting
in a fatality.
Here are some examples from my personal recollection:
- Two deaths following a mid air collision between two HGs which severed
the keel of one hang glider. Emergency parachute deployed as the pilot
fell free from the glider. The chute burst on opening, pilot died on impact.
The other pilot did not deploy their chute (possibly incapacitated in the
collision) and also died on impact with the ground.
- Two deaths following a mid air collision between two HGs. One pilot
deployed their chute immediately and descended under an overloaded and
unstable chute which was accelerating and descending at 11m/s at impact
(established from barograph function of variometer). The pilot was killed.
The other glider flew away from the impact site and the pilot deliberately
deployed their chute over a large field. This pilot's harness failed under
the shock of the chute opening and the pilot fell to their death.
- Death following chute deployment, possibly after tumble. Chute had
burst on opening. Although the pilot was still attached to the glider it
is unknown how much structural damage had occurred when the chute was thrown.
- Death following mid air between HG and PG. PG was damaged but flew
to safe landing. HG was pitched down and stalled. Pilot deployed chute
which did not open due to being held closed by the deployment bag which
had been rigged with the chute lines through a loop on the bag. Pilot killed
- Death following attempted chute deployment (I can't remember what
caused the chute to have to be deployed, it was quite probably another
mid-air collision). The deployment handle detached from the deployment
bag due to stitching failure.
- Accidental deployment just after takeoff on a HG which resulted in
serious facial injury.
- Accidental deployment just after takeoff on a HG at a windy cliff
site which lifted the glider up, back, and down again in the rotor. No
injury or damage!
- Accidental deployment in flight in an HG that the pilot was able
to hold the canopy with one hand until just before landing. Bruising and
- Both pilots survived following mid air collision between two HGs.
One pilot successfully deployed their chute and escaped with a broken arm,
the second deployed their chute, but it did not open, remaining as a streamer
until impact. Ground impact was in small trees on a steep slope, the glider
wreckage lodged in a tree, leaving the pilot suspended a few feet above
the ground. The pilot was bruised but otherwise uninjured.
- Pilot survived cross tube failure of HG at altitude without a parachute!
Impact was on a small patch of soft ground amongst large areas of rocks.
Serious pelvic injuries, but full recovery.
Having achieved near universal carrying of emergency parachutes, the
next step must be to as make sure as possible that they will work when
required (and not deploy when not required). To this end in the UK we have
a training system and examination to Licence Emergency Parachute Packing
and Systems inspectors, who are trained to inspect and repack chutes and
In Canada, Riggers are certified to repair parachutes.
Since repacking most reserves is not technically demanding, we put our
emphasis on Deployment practice clinics.
North American evidence is that one of the most important factors is
to be able to get your parachute out quickly. Terminal velocity can be
reached in short order. Extreme load forces can cause blown chutes or failed
harnesses. Secondly, Hang Gliders can quickly enter violent spins, and
centrifugal forces thus become a significant cause of failed deployments
either because the pilot cannot deploy the reserve effectively, or it streamers
and wraps around the glider.
We have no record of any failed Paragliding reserve deployments. For
a list of accidental and failed deployments (all from + - 100' AGL or
less) Link to Canadian
Parachute Deployment Statistics
I thought it might be rewarding to know how many lives have been saved
by reserve deployments. I am sure the R&D people / manufacturors would
be interested in having their efforts validated.
I have a policy here in Canada. Any pilot who throws their reserve gets
a free bottle of champagne at a competition / club meeting - in return
for telling the story in front of all their friends. (Oh yeah... and filling
out an incident report!) It has made for some very special evenings
around the campfire.
I like very much the idea of stories around the fire with a champagne
Here is my one: Angelo Crapanzano
The second paragliding reserve I manufactured (it was the old 1989)
was bought by a Swiss pilot. A couple of weeks later he went to fly to
Monte Generoso (between Lugano and Como) with his new "high performance"
paraglider: it was the age of the famous Genair.
Conditions were quite turbulent with a thunderstorm far at the North-West.
While he was thermalling the paraglider collapsed and he couldn't manage
to reopen it so he had to deploy his brand new rescue parachute. Everything
went well and he landed completely unhurt on a slope high on the mountain.
He was quite far from any road with only the possibility to go down walking
so he decided to takeoff again and go down flying.
Of course the deployment bag was lost and he was not able to repack
the parachute so he wrapped the canopy inside the lines and stowed it in
In flight everything was OK, he found a nice thermal so decided to continue
his flight: it was several years he was flying without parachute and "the
lightning never hits twice the same place".
Not in this case: his paraglider collapsed again and did not reopen
despite all his efforts so he went for the back-sack, opened the zipper,
pulled out the parachute and throw it as it was!
The parachute opened with just 50 meters left and he landed again on
a slope high on the mountain but this time he decided to put everything
in the back-sack and went down walking!
Maybe just because he was nearer to a road?