Paragliding debate after tragedy

Local | Sophie Hui and Stella Wong 30 Jul 2018

An experienced hang glider pilot who analyzes global statistics of paragliding accidents has warned of the hidden dangers of the sport.

In an interview with The Standard, Rick Masters, a former hang glider pilot and independent researcher on free flight aircraft in America, described Patrick Chung Yuk-wa's death as unfortunate.

Forty-year-old Chung went missing on July 22 and was found dead on Friday after hundreds of searchers combed Lantau, by helicopter, on foot and in boats.

He was found near Sunset Peak, also known as Tai Tung Shan, about a kilometer northeast of where he had taken off.

The cause and the time of his death are still not known pending a postmortem.

Masters said of Chung: "He was flying a paraglider in storm turbulence, as evidenced by the others who crashed in the gust front. It was an unfortunate situation as he probably did not choose to launch into these turbulent conditions but was caught by turbulence.

"And unfortunately he was flying a paraglider - the least capable of all aircraft in turbulence." He said Chung was the 1,714th person to die in a paraglider incident since 1986.

Masters said he would not go paragliding due to the dangers, explaining: "A soaring parachutist is suspended 10 or 15 feet below his wing. All his efforts to move forward can only produce a tiny bit of pitch control. This leaves him at the mercy of strong lifts, such as lift in the vicinity of underdeveloped clouds. Caught in a strong lift he cannot get down."

He added that there is a big difference for a hang glider and a paraglider when it comes to landings.

"Above 25 mph, landing a hang glider safely is a matter of skill, whereas surviving a landing in a paraglider in high winds becomes a matter of luck," he said. "Paragliders sometimes collapse in turbulence because they are parachutes without a rigid support structure."

Masters also said paragliding inland is more dangerous than flying off a coast due to the thermal turbulence.

"The appropriate aircraft for flying in inland thermal turbulence is a hang glider, which cannot collapse," he said.

But some paragliding pilots disagree with Masters' remarks.

One argued that hang gliding is more dangerous as the speed is greater than paragliding.

Still, paraglider and hang glider pilots are equally at risk of hitting turbulence, and both have their own difficulties.

At the end of the day, both follow the same theoretical principles about flying and ways to ascend and descend, but there are different ways of control.

"If you play paragliding correctly, it is not dangerous," he said. "Of course, if you play it wrong, it can be dangerous."

As for flying at a seaside or inland, he said both sorts of areas can pose dangers. So it comes back to pilots knowing how to stay in control.

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