Geoff Dawson’s account of his Incident in the East bowl of Parlick, and the subsequent reserve ride.
Reserve Deployment on Parlick East Face Friday 2nd September 2022
Conditions before take-off
Site - Parlick East Face.
Equipment - BGD Base 2, Small, EN B. Harness Advance Impress 3. Reserve SupAir Light M.
Time - About 14.12
Wind - South of east, 12 to 18 mph. It had been stronger earlier. There was stronger wind later.
Weather - Hot (for Lancashire), about 20 deg C. Ground still dry at the end of the summer. Sunny. Cumulus.
As I got ready to take off, there were 3 paragliders in the air and a Hang glider. They had been getting pretty high (1000 ft ATO). There was evidence of wave. Some Pilots had reported some roughness.
The Run up
I took off and got smooth lift. There was obvious wave. I initially flew around take off trying to get more height in order to hook solidly into the wave which progressively improved as I got higher. The wind was quite strong and well off to the SE, so I loitered around take off until I got the confidence to move over to Wolf Crags where other gliders had already been quite high. After a short while, I got an excellent period of sustained good lift that let me drift right to the end of Wolf Crags. I circled up getting higher and higher until high over the back fells just in front of the ridge on the path up to Fairsnape. I decided that was far enough back and pressed forward again, over the back fells, descending steadily. Another paraglider and a hang glider carried on backwards towards Fairsnape gaining even more height.
Up to this time, I’d only encountered smooth conditions, very little roughness, though other Pilots had complained over the radio about poor air.
My account of the incident
Returning over the north east end of Wolf Crags, I encountered lift again. This became quite strong, super smooth lift, and I ascended rapidly. Graham was behind and lower and turned towards me. The vario wasn’t screaming, but I was ascending quite rapidly. I continued pressing forward and upward, with some brake. After maybe 30 seconds or more, I considered turning, but decided to press on towards Saddle Fell to see how far out the lift would go. (Thoughts of the Toteridge Run).
Suddenly the wing started rocking a bit. (2 seconds?) Then I felt like I was getting tip collapses (1 second?). Next I was dropping quite fast (2 seconds?). The wing had gone! I looked up and saw just half a wing. Left half had collapsed. The wing turned leftwards and rotated anti-clockwise at a moderate rate. Then it steadied. There was pressure in it, but the collapse wasn’t changing. It wasn’t rolling out as I expected. I was expecting to dive into the turn, then accelerate, then counter and pump and see the collapse largely right itself. (All this was probably 3 or 4 seconds). I may not have let my hands go right up to brakes fully off. I forgot about bending my knees, widening my legs and lying back as per Malin Lobb’s safety brief, despite having rehearsed it a dozen times a couple of nights before. Not sure what I did.
The wing was steady for maybe 2 or 3 seconds, and I tried pumping the left bake. Probably not nearly long enough pumps. But there was zero pressure on the brake and nothing was changing. The wing then dived again leftwards, anti-clockwise. Not very fast.
At this point Graham was yelling on the radio Reserve, Reserve, Reserve! The reserve thought had already passed through my mind but things still felt recoverable. However, all the many warnings about Pilots carrying on trying to recover for too long came to mind and I focussed on the reserve.
I reached down and found the handle easily (right hand side), a thing that I regularly practice. Pulling out the reserve was a bit stiff, not instant, but similar to when I’ve gone through this motion before on Club Practice Deployment nights. I got the reserve right out and thought about throwing it. I swung it left – too far and it nearly went over my feet. Then right and released. This probably took about 2 seconds, but it felt longer.
It deployed rapidly. 1 to 2 seconds.
At this point things seemed quite controlled. Rate of descent not too high and no oscillation. The main was above and in front of me, in view, and the reserve was behind and out of view. I’m not sure, but the main might still have only been half a wing. Next I tried to draw in the main. I’d made a start on this when the ground loomed up. From deployment complete to ground approaching, maybe 5 seconds.
I got my feet out of the cocoon. Rate of descent felt very reasonable with no rotation. I decided not to try a stand up landing but just flop with a parachute landing, which I did on a perfect clump of old heather, on a gentle slope just off the left hand end of Wolf Crags, level with the top of Wolf Crags. It was really soft, like cloud nine. Not a rock in sight. Well above the ‘rock concealing bracken’ at the base of Wolf Crags. Ground approach and landing, maybe another 5 seconds.
I stood up immediately, got the reserve under control in the light breeze, and radioed that I was fine.
It's worth noting how odd the wing felt just before I dropped. Soggy perhaps. I'd not encountered that before.
I should mention just how dynamic the wing became. Just how fast, and how much energy was involved. It felt, I imagine, like flying a finely balanced, tiny mini-wing. Poised on the edge of high rotation.
I'm also fairly sure there was no dive.
What Steve saw
I don’t know if Steve was in the air or on the ground at take-off.
Steve saw the incident start and thought at first that I was trying to lose height. He saw the wing turn anti-clockwise though not fast, maybe 2 revolutions. It then steadied and he thought I’d controlled it. But then it started turning again, anti-clockwise, another revolution and a half. The reserve came out and deployed rapidly. Steve was sure the wing had been cravatted.
What Graham saw.
Graham had headed into the good lift and was behind and below me. He saw my wing crumple and thought I’d also had a symmetric front collapse. My wing then started turning, spinning slowly, and he yelled Reserve, Reserve, Reserve on the radio. He braced for impact of whatever had got me (I’m guessing he was about a hundred foot behind and initially 50 foot lower), and felt the rush of something going past one side of his wing, but not that much. Graham is sure that we were flying in wave. He also said we were not that high. I dropped rapidly to below him. He could see that half the wing was collapsed but didn’t say that it was a cravat.
Possible causes of the collapse.
The day was definitely dominated by wave, though there were also thermals and good thermal cumulus clouds. Later at the start of the evening, I saw classic wave clouds over Preston.
At first I thought maybe I’d been too optimistic in not turning in the lift (hoping the lift band would extend out much further) and had flown out the back of a thermal. However, afterwards, it was clear that we’d been going up in quite strong wave. However, normally when going up in wave, and then losing it, I expect to feel a slight bump, followed by descent. And then there was that rush of air that Graham had felt passing immediately afterwards.
Possibilities we could think of include :-
· A thermal surging up through the wave. Maybe a dust devil, though I’ve never seen one on Parlick. Brian said that the BPC competition saw them on Parlick the previous weekend.
· Downstream turbulence caused by a thermal coming up ahead through the wave.
· Wave turbulence that had somehow got into the wave (from ground or air sources).
· Flying out of the top of the wave. There could be turbulence in the boundary layer.
· Or flying out the back of a big thermal.
Graham had been close behind me and didn’t turn immediately after the incident, so he must have flown through the space where I had my collapse. This suggests that it was turbulence within the wave, and that I hadn’t flown out the back of a thermal, or out the top of the wave.
Three Types of Asymmetric Collapse.
This is a distillation of the ‘journey of discovery’ I’ve had while trying to determine what happened and what I should have done. It combines my own past experience, videos by Jocky, Greg and Ari, analysis of my incident by Richard and Brian, and finally Richard’s excellent video of his own cravat incident with analysis by Malin Lobb.
It is critical to identify the type of asymmetric collapse. Each type requires different actions for recovery.
For each of these three types (there may be others), this is what I expect to see and do. Though as Richard says … “dangerous things those expectations. SIV training exposes us to a variety of situations and you learn to deal with the situation you are presented with rather than what you expect.”
Reading this and watching videos is no substitute for an SIV course.
You could have simultaneous collapses in both wing tips (Symmetric asymmetrics)!
Think of what you see, and of what you don’t see.
The “standard” asymmetric collapse.
I’ve had this type of collapse many times and I was taught how to recover on an SIV course back in the 90’s. They can vary from small ‘tip tucks’ to half of the wing collapsing. The leading edge of the wing suddenly folds down and underneath the remaining chord of the wing.
I expect to feel a change in brake pressure on the affected side, maybe hear a flap, and look up to see part of the wing folded, with the wingtip flapping raggedly behind the trailing edge of the wing.
A small tip tuck will probably be coming out on its own by the time you’ve reacted to it, but if it doesn’t, stop any rotation, then pump the brake on the affected side.
On some wings, the tips are designed to stay in if left alone to facilitate Big Ears.
For a big standard asymmetric, in the first 2 seconds try to keep both hands up (brakes off). Let the wing accelerate and dive into the turn during these 2 seconds while starting to weight shift in the opposite direction. Then use weight shift and opposite brake to stop the rotation while doing good long pumps on the brake on the affected side. The wing tip should start to roll out on its own and the pumps will speed up the process. Too much brake on the flying side will risk a stall.
Remember to look around as well as up to maintain orientation, and avoid flying into a cliff, or another Pilot.
In a big standard asymmetric, expect to feel yourself drop, and for the whole incident to be quite ‘exciting’.
The snag/knot cravat asymmetric collapse.
I’ve never experienced one of these myself, so I’m just going off what I’ve seen in videos by Jocky, Greg and Ari on Youtube.
In this type of asymmetric, a wing tip manages to snake in underneath the wing and then become snagged/knotted between the lines.
On looking up, I believe the knotted wing tip should be clearly visible beneath the wing.
It will cause a substantial drag on one side of the wing, so the priority is to stop the rotation.
Do NOT pump the brake on the affected side. This will only tighten the knot. To remove the cravat, the lines holding the wing tip must be loosened. There are different ways of doing this. For small cravats, I like the idea of pulling a big ear on the affected side. This should shroud the cravat, improving the airflow and reducing the drag. It should also loosen the snagging lines allowing the cravat to ease out. Let the big ear out. If the tip is still cravatted, try the stabilo line. Repeat big ear then stabilo line until the cravat is released. If it won’t come out, pull a big ear and carefully land.
Remember to look around as well as up to maintain orientation, and avoid flying into a cliff, or another Pilot, or the ground.
Be very careful with the application of opposite brake to stop rotation as the risk of stalling or spinning is high.
A big cravat of this type may require a stall to shift it.
I believe the risk of losing control is high, so throwing the reserve should be an option at the fore of your mind.
The fold cravat asymmetric collapse.
I’d never heard about these until I experienced one, and didn’t correct it!
The only video I’ve seen is the one of Richard Meek’s incident with analysis by Malin Lobb.
In this type of asymmetric, a wing tip manages to snake in or fold underneath the wing and then become trapped between the lines.
On looking up, I believe the folded wing tip should be clearly visible pressed fairly neatly beneath the wing. In Richard’s case and my case, a very large section of wing was folded in.
It will cause a substantial drag on one side of the wing, so the priority is to stop the rotation. A high rotational spin or spiral is possible, with the possibility of blacking out due to High G forces.
I don’t know about small fold cravats, but in big ones, pumping the brake will do nothing. You can’t use a big ear or the stabilo. There will be no big ear to pull! Things may be very dynamic and you may be losing height fast.
The only solution is to back fly the wing by stalling or back spinning. These are advanced manoeuvres that can only be safely learned on an SIV course.
Throwing the reserve is a prime option.
The big lessons
If under 1000 feet AGL, spend a maximum of 5 seconds, or have one attempt, at fixing the problem, then DEPLOY THE RESERVE.
If under 1000 feet AGL and you don’t know what’s happening, or you’re starting to spin or spiral, DEPLOY IMMEDIATELY.
Look up at the wing if there’s any disturbance. Even on a B. Don’t just go on feel like I did at first. As Richard says, “The turbulence is a warning that an issue might occur, giving the pilot an opportunity to look at the wing and SEE the START of the collapse and prevent it. You see a collapse earlier than you feel the consequences - it might only be 0.5 - 1.0 second but that's a lot when it comes to dealing with incidents”.
Fly with a radio. If you see someone having a major incident low down, yell RESERVE, RESERVE, RESERVE. The big danger is that the Pilot is absorbed with the problem, thinking they can still fix it, when it’s their last chance to throw the reserve.
Go on Club ‘Reserve throwing and repack’ nights. Go through the motions of reaching for the reserve handle as a practice, every time you fly.
Go on more SIV courses.
Some Facts and Figures
From the vario tracklog …
All heights are GPS amsl.
T.O. 392m at 13:57
Max height 636m in the first thermal/wave over the back of the fell at 14:09
Landing 366m at 14:12:34
Max rise 3 m/s
Max sink -8.3 m/s
Height at Wolf Crags before last lift 455m
Height at incident 550m at 14:12:01
Height lost during incident 550m – 366m => 184m (604ft) I thought I was higher, though I did land near level with the top of Wolf Crags. I had been flying out over the valley.
Time for incident 14:12:34 – 14:12:01 => 33 seconds from wing collapse to landing – slightly longer than my subjective timings (of 26 seconds in total taking my maximum estimates). NOT a long time!
Our terminal velocity 56 m/s (arms and legs spread)
My max sink -8.3 m/s
Parachute landing speed 5 to 6 m/s
My landing speed 3.5 m/s
And my tracklog
Some more random points and thoughts
A sweep up of things not included above, including more of Richard’s points.
Thinking about the incident immediately afterwards, I thought that my attempts at recovery had been poor and I should have been able to recover the wing. (Body position wrong, hands not right up at the start, not pumping properly). However, on reflection, the wing had shown no move to correct itself. The collapsed half didn’t budge even though there was pressure in the rest of the wing. If there was a deep fold cravat, as appears likely, it would have taken expertise, another thousand foot, and back flying (if you can do that) to fix it.
Thinking about my past experience.
I went on an SIV course in the early 90's with Jocky and I would say that my incident recovery planning is based on that. Cravats were unknown at that time/not mentioned.
My idea of dynamic flying and helping a non-competition wing avoid collapsing was automatic stabs of the brakes in response to loss of pressure. Then in a collapse (asymmetrics assumed) let the wing start to recover before assisting. Hands up being a default starting point if other action wasn't obvious. As mentioned above, I will now look up at the wing more often in turbulence.
I forgot about bending my knees, widening my legs and lying back as per one of Malin Lobb’s safety briefs on Youtube. Richard advises, "We can all practice this so that it becomes automatic. I frequently tuck legs under when entering a thermal to break the habit of extending legs (plus thermal entry is a regular source of turbulence)”.
Do you normally use weight shift when turning? If not, then start practicing weight shifting so that it becomes automatic in an incident.
If you are looking up at the wing and see a big collapse starting. There’s a chance of stopping it if you react within a second. If one half of the wing is collapsing, give a big pump with the brake on the collapsing side. If the wing tips are arcing upwards to touch each other as in Richard’s incident (maybe following a symmetric collapse), pump both brakes simultaneously.
From Richard …Pilot states "The wing turned leftwards and rotated anti-clockwise at a moderate rate." Implication is that it's a SAT like autorotation where the centre of rotation is between the pilot and the wing. This is different to a spiral like rotation which is fast and feels like high G forces. All rotations are dangerous but the high-G spiral is extremely dangerous due to the risk of falling unconscious. However, the pilot and third parties report "moderate" or "slow" rotation which isn't really consistent with an SAT like auto-rotation so we've got to be open to the idea that the incident was something different.
Maybe the ‘moderate’ rate of rotation was evidence of the B wing resisting rotation. Or maybe the fold was so big, and so far across the remaining wing, that it created even drag right along most of the wing.
There is generally more passive safety in lower rated wings but you cannot rely on that in ALL situations.
Brake input to pump out a collapse is different from spinning out a cravat. Spinning out a cravat involves braking one side until it starts to fly backwards and that reverse airflow blows the cravat off the lines. Spinning out a cravat is an advanced technique which needs to be learned in a safe environment. This technique can cause issues unless correctly executed. The cravat needs to be removed completely before ending the back spin. If part of the cravat remains on exiting the back spin, the wing might go into a spiral dive.
Stalling is an advanced technique which ought to be learned in a safe environment. When I was training with Ian Currer back in 1990, stalling was still on the syllabus for Beginners, just like it still is in Hang Gliding. Ian was supervising a Trainee Instructor doing his stall, maybe at Tailbridge or Addlebrough, and it nearly went horribly wrong. Ian promptly lobbied and got it removed from the syllabus, before I had to do it.
Be honest with oneself regarding capabilities and fly accordingly.