HPAC Safety Advisory – Spring 2024

While many members have been fortunate to continue flying over the winter, and others may still be digging out from recent snowfalls, most are eagerly looking forward to the spring flying season. With the anticipated changing of the seasons, now is a perfect time to start thinking about flight safety. The Spring 2024 Safety Advisory contains an update on some of the major accidents that occurred in the past year, as well as a summary of advice based on accident reporting. Finally, we are excited to announce the launch of a completely revamped reporting system, and provide some insights into our projects for the coming year.


Two thousand and twenty-three was an eventful year for our sport. It appears that hang gliding and paragliding in Canada is facing increased awareness and popularity and HPAC saw 272 new members. At the same time, a number of serious accidents occurred in 2023, including 5 fatalities. Four of these occurred within Canada, and a fifth Canadian pilot died following an accident while flying in another country.

Here are summaries for each of the fatal occurrences in 2023. Comprehensive reports on each of the fatal accidents are currently being prepared and will be shared with members once available.

  1. A hang glider pilot suffered fatal injuries after impacting terrain while tow launching. Witnesses report the glider failing to stay in-line with the towline, power being released, and the glider making a banking turn that concluded when the glider struck the ground. The incident occurred during the pilot’s first tow of the season. It is suspected the pilot suffered a medical event while towing;
  2. A P3 suffered fatal injuries after experiencing an asymmetric collapse while close to the ground and impacting terrain. It is suspected that failure to maintain directional control following the asymmetric collapse caused the glider to enter a turn/rotation with increasing speed and descent rate that continued until impact with terrain;
  3. A P4 had a dynamic and unexplained event while on the first flight with a new wing (EN C). Descent rates up to 19 m/s were documented and nearly 2000 metres of elevation was lost; no reserve parachute was deployed. The pilot suffered fatal injuries after impact with terrain;
  4. A P2 student died after the wing stalled while tow launching. It is suspected the pilot suffered a medical event and became unresponsive to coaching while towing.
  5. A P4 died following collision with terrain. Suspected turbulence or asymmetric collapse caused the pilot to collide with the mountain and become trapped in technical terrain. Tragically, the pilot survived the initial impact but subsequently died after falling from this terrain.

While it is impossible to know the complete causes in each of these occurrences, these cases, along with a review of non-fatal incidents, can help to inform safety practices.



A. Used Gear

While not related to any serious incidents, there were a few cases where pilots discovered inappropriate equipment after purchasing used gear. These incidents had the potential to have significant impact on pilot safety, but were recognized before harm could come.

Most of these cases were related to reserve/rescue parachutes being either expired or incorrectly packed. This serves as a solid reminder to always makes sure you know what you are buying. At least one pilot purchased an expired reserve that was not adequately attached to the harness, and another found a vario packed in/with the reserve parachute after purchase.

Regardless of the source, pilots are encouraged to ask for evidence of manufacture date prior to the purchase of any used gear. Most manufacturers advise against using reserve parachutes older than 10 years. Furthermore, every pilot should visually inspect that the reserve is loaded into and attached to the harness according to the harness manufacturer’s specifications. Better yet, learn to pack your own reserve.

B. Wing Choice

Multiple fatal and non-fatal paragliding incidents were associated with an asymmetric collapse and subsequent collision with terrain. In some cases, pilots were flying either new, or very high aspect ratio wings, requiring a high degree of competence and active piloting. This serves as a reminder for pilots to ensure they have the skills and experience for any wing they choose to fly. Consider progressing slowly, and in consultation with a certified instructor.


Two of the fatalities were associated with tow launching of both paragliders and hang-gliders; a number of non-fatal incidents related to towing were also reported in 2023. While this is balanced by the fact that thousands of successful tows occurred without incident in 2023, these numbers demonstrate that incidents occur and progress rapidly while on tow. Pilots, students, and instructors should be mindful of this, and factors such as staying in line with the towline and avoiding deep brake input should be front of mind.


Several serious and fatal incidents involved stalls. Furthermore, while tow launching, pilots, students, and instructors should be particularly attuned to the fact that a stall can develop and progress rapidly. This is exacerbated by the fact that pilots are often close to terrain with minimal time to correct once a stall develops. In a recent contribution, Bruce Goldsmith reported that a paraglider can lose 100 or more metres of elevation while recovering from a stall. Figures for hang gliders are similar. This highlights the need to avoid stalling when close to terrain.


At least two fatal paragliding incidents, along with a number of non-fatal incidents, resulted from collisions with terrain which occurred following asymmetric collapses. When close to terrain, direction control in the event of a collapse is paramount. Pilots should be aware that flying close to terrain is fraught with significant risk in the event a pilot encounters sink, turbulence, or a collapse. While it can be tempting to ‘scratch’ low in weak conditions, there are countless reports in the free flight community of this resulting in impact with terrain. Should a pilot choose to fly close to terrain, this must be a conscious decision with a full understanding of the risks. If soaring close to terrain, pilots should take measures to minimize these risks, including active piloting and maintaining weight shift away from terrain while crabbing along the hill. However, the best advice is to simply fly with enough clearance that a collision with terrain is easily avoided in the event of a major collapse.


Don’t hesitate to throw a reserve. In nearly all reported cases where a reserve parachute was deployed, the pilot landed without injuries or with only minor injuries. While the sample size within Canada is relatively small, statistics across the world clearly indicate that throwing a reserve in hang gliding and paragliding reduces the risk of fatality or injury[1]. In at least two of the fatal accidents, it was suspected that no attempt to deploy a reserve parachute was made. One incident involved an experienced pilot that had a dynamic incident and lost nearly 2000 m of elevation before impacting terrain, with no apparent attempt to deploy the reserve. While it is impossible to know why this was the case, this highlights the need for pilots to decide and act early when it comes to deploying reserves. Anecdotal evidence suggests that pilots may rapidly lose capacity to deploy the reserve in high G-force states, and may even lose consciousness before impact. Don’t hesitate to deploy a reserve parachute, especially when close to the ground or rotational forces ­­­­are at play.


All of the learnings are possible because members of the HPAC community have taken the time to submit thoughtful, accurate, and timely reports. The Safety Committee is grateful to all those that have contributed to the safety of free flight by sharing their stories, providing witness statements, or giving feedback on the new online report tool.

Last year, we surveyed pilots in our community about their experience with our reporting system, and their expectations looking ahead. This survey served to inform the revisions implemented in the collection and analyzing of incident data.

In essence, pilots expressed a collective desire for:

  • Simplified and readily accessible report form;
  • Clear guidelines to indicate what incidents require reporting;
  • Creation of anonymized, publicly-accessible, summaries for all incidents and accidents in order to improve transparency and communal learning

As a result, several changes were made to the existing system and will be launched in the coming weeks:

  • Implementation of a public database of incidents and accidents with the goal of fostering shared learning.

Please do your part to keep your peers safe by reporting all incidents and accidents.

The HPAC Safety Committee

Contact : safety@hpac.ca


[1] Stocker, B. (2022, Jan/Feb). Accident Trends in Recent Years – Abnormalities and Hotspots. Swiss Glider. https://www.shv-fsvl.ch/fileadmin/files/redakteure/Allgemein/Sicherheit/Unfallmeldungen/Unfallanalysen/2021_europaweit.pdf