Not Quite What I Planned…

On Saturday, it started out as such a beautiful day at the Fort …
It ended up being simultaneously the best flying I have ever had there, and also my worst day flying ever.

Around 3:00pm there was a steady westerly wind of about 5-8 MPH. It was enough for some kiting, but not enough to sustain much lift. At first, it was just Murdoch and myself, though soon Patti joined us as well. By around 4pm, the winds were finally picking up, and a flock of other park visitors kept asking why none of the paragliders were taking off.

Soon enough, there was adequate lift to carry me from the south to the north end of the field (flight #1), but I was still cautious about launching over the precipice at the top of the bluff. That caution quickly faded as the winds lifted me straight up even before the edge and from that point onward I was in heaven (flight #2). Patti and Murdoch soon joined me, along with Andrei and Irena who had recently arrived.

At one point, there was a family of eagles soaring the ridge – an adult and several little ones, apparently learning to fly. To be soaring the ridge while these natives were just beginning to explore the wonder of their home domain in the sky was both beautiful and somehow an honor just to watch. These young fledglings, if they had not already, would gain a level of mastery over flight in a matter of hours that I could not hope to achieve with a lifetime of flight, and yet at this point, they were still students. Wow.

After around 30 minutes, I was getting cold, so I came back around over the field, landed gracefully by the picnic table where I had an extra jacket and warmer gloves. In less than 5 minutes turn-around, I had returned to the sky to join my comrades again (flight #3), including Andrei who was doing a series of wingovers out over the water only to rise in the lift to do it again and again. It was so much fun to watch and soar with these other pilots. Wow.

After about another 45 minutes, I came in for a landing to use the restrooms and grab a bite to eat. Conditions were such that it reminded me of being a child at the swimming pool, where I could play all I wanted to, get out when I wanted to, grab a snack or use the restroom, and yet still had the freedom to jump back into the fun and play at will. It was just that kind of day.

My fourth flight was deceptively uneventful, given what would follow later in the evening. I flew for maybe 30 minutes, and then it began to rain, though still quite gently. I brought my wing back over the Fort for final approach and made what was probably one of the slowest and most graceful landings I had ever had. It took maybe 30 seconds to finally descend that last 15 feet before landing gingerly on my toes, kiting the wing and bringing it gently back to the ground. Thinking that the rain might pass quickly, I covered my wing with my rucksack and waited it out as the other pilots landed to do the same. Well, all except Jim Martin, who had recently arrived and flew in the rain, showing no more concern for the gentle trickle than the birds who were still flying about, probably happy to have more of their playground back again.

While the rain remained quite light, it also failed to let up for quite some time and I decided to pack up to go home. Having more than once forgot something behind at the Fort, I returned to the field to do one last look around. That’s when Irena invited me to stay just a bit longer, as she and Andrei had just brought down some delicious rhubarb pie that they had bought along the way. It was messy as all can be, absolutely scrumptious, and best of all, it was still warm. I could have easily left just 10 minutes earlier, but then I would have missed the joy that is the camaraderie of this wonderful group of pilots. Wow.

Best of all, the rain did finally let up, and conditions were still good for more flying. It was now close to 7:00pm. Plus, with some rhubarb in my belly, I figured I could go a bit longer before wanting dinner. The flight started well enough, and I launched using the technique that Jim had shown me before: no brakes, palms up, gingerly controlling the D’s. The launch was a little rough, but soon I was in the air again, traveling to the north. Unfortunately, I never quite got the altitude to fully enter the lift band. I tried going back and forth a few times, all the while remaining just 20-40 feet below the ledge.

Soon, it became clear that I was losing altitude, and would be making a beach landing. That was no big deal, as there was more than enough beach to land on, and I had done that twice before on earlier trips. I decided to fly south, so as to land closer to the trail that went back up the bluff. Here is where I made my first major mistake in judgment: seeking to get closer to the trail, I waited too long to turn around and face back upwind. By the time I realized this, I was too low to execute the turn safely. A fraction of a second later, I saw that given that there were more rocks than sand on this part of the beach, my chances for a safe down-wind landing on unsure footing was also more than questionable. I had way too much forward speed with the wind to my back and would have most likely landed and fallen on my face even with loads of flare.

Despite the low altitude, I turned steeply to the right, towards the water, with far more lean than break, hoping to complete as much of the turn as I could without sacrificing as much altitude. Despite the outcome, I think that that still might have been the best course of action to prior poor judgment given the circumstances, and I’m open to hearing otherwise. I had completed maybe 150 degrees of my 180 turn when things started to move at break-neck speeds… literally.

As best as I can tell, I landed first on my right butt cheek, with the padding on my harness directly below me where it probably did the most good. I still had plenty of momentum towards the south and rolled violently and diagonally across the rocks from my right tush, then striking my left thigh/femur, my shoulder, and my head in who-knows what order. I have a distinct memory of an incredibly loud crunching noise which I knew to be my helmet, which I believe I hit first on the back-left, but I’m not sure.

Presently, as I’m writing this up and looking at the helmet, it would appear that there is very little of the helmet that did not strike the rocks at some point. There is damage to the upper right crown, scrapes on the lower right at the base, and much more significant scrapes and scratches to the entire left side. Then, of course, there is that pool of blood on the helmet padding above the left eye.

My glasses were destroyed, bent horribly out of shape with both lenses having popped out somewhere on the beach. I was in no condition to look for them even if I had been able to see at that point. I was incredibly disoriented, foolishly tried to stand, but whether from the uneven ground, the head wound, the loss of my glasses, or the blood dripping down my face, I never made it above my knees before falling down again. I did not feel my head injury, but just noticed all the blood dripping from my forehead. Now here’s the really stupid part: for some reason, I was thinking “I just got this new flight suit… don’t bleed on it!” That was followed shortly by another voice in my head that said “shut up. Be still. You’re messed up here, and don’t even know it yet. Just be still and breathe for a while.”

I listened to the second voice – I did not have much choice in the matter at that point. I wanted to lie down and go to sleep. “NO! You can’t do that! Pull out your phone and call for help!” I called Kristen, whom I had traveled with to the Fort, but got her voice mail. I left her a message that I had crashed on the south end of the beach near the trail, told her to tell the other pilots, and that I was injured. That was all I said, and I also knew that her cell reception was terrible in that area. I tried calling a number that I had for Murdoch, but there was no answer on that one. For some reason, calling 911 never entered my mind. I can’t explain why.

So, not knowing if my message got through or not, I performed a secondary survey from my toes to my head, determining that my leg was the worst, but that I had no idea how bad my head really was. I moved slowly, staggered to my feet (barely), and began to gather my gear with some difficulty. Andrei reported later that having seen me standing and packing my gear, that he thought I was OK. There was no way he could have seen my wobbly stance from that far away in the sky. I’m sure I still had adrenaline pumping a mile a minute at that point. I had only just made my way to the base of the trail when I heard Kristen calling from the top of the hill. She had received my message, and apparently relayed that I was on the beach to the other pilots, but not that I was injured. They pointed her to the trail where I could be found.

She made her way down the hill while I basically hobbled my way slowly forward. Only upon seeing my blood covered face did she realize that this was a bit more serious. I told her to take my gear, go back to the top, and to get help. In retrospect, she probably could have just left the gear. I can only guess that once a pilot, always a pilot, and a pilot never likes being separated from her gear. While she went back up, I had a walking stick and basically tripod-hobbled my way slowly up the hill. I so wanted to just lie down and sleep. I was afraid to rest, too, fearing that if I stopped, I would never get going again or that I would pass out. Something deep inside me just kept screaming to keep going, regardless of how slow my progress. And so I did.

Sometime thereafter, Andrei made his way down the hill. Uncontrollably, I began to cry. He probably thought I was just in pain, which I was, but I was also just SOOO glad to see him. Even now, I don’t recall if I ever thanked him (thank you Andrei !). Together, we made our way up the steep slope to the top, whereupon I sat down and Irena was the first with enough good sense to call 911. That alone was a bizarre story, as there was some difficulty communicating to them where Ft. Ebby really was.

After waiting for a while (my sense of time is way distorted here), I recommended that we just get me to the parking lot and that Kristen take me to the hospital directly because I did not know how long help would be and I was so sleepy. (I’ve got one of those on-board navigation things that could direct us the hospital). Andrei and Patti helped me closer to the car when help arrived just before we got to the steps that lead down to the launch/LZ.

At the top of the stairs, the EMT’s strapped me into a transport chair to take me the rest of the way. Ironically, I think the most painful part of my whole ordeal came when one of them quickly pulled a strap to lock me into the chair and managed to do so directly across my injured femur. I know that I let out a yelp like an injured dog, and despite the EMT’s need to look more closely, I guarded my leg rather fiercely after that blunder. Regardless, I was now “in the medical system” and would be getting help.

Skipping most of the rest of the details from this point (for they are many and colorful), they ran a battery of tests, including a CAT scan and a few X-rays of my femur, neck, and chest, all of which turned out clean. Blood counts showed no internal bleeding. Net result: A concussion without loss of consciousness; a laceration on the scalp that looks like the mark on Harry Potter’s head, but which was glued back together; abrasions on the left shoulder; a significant contusion to the thigh; minor bruises to the left hand, and (hopefully) a few lessons learned.


  1. My shooting to land by the trail and failure to turn upwind was essentially the common problem associated with trying for a spot-landing. It’s really not worth it.
  2. I would recommend that all of us, myself included, keep the phone numbers of more fellow pilots in our cell phonebooks.


How on earth did I manage to get the head wound so far up my scalp, even with a Charley Insider full face helmet?

I know that it was the right size – it was snug all over my head.

I know the chin-strap was fastened, and it was still fastened when I took it off down below.

All I can figure at this point is that the chin-strap slipped under the impact and exposed my forehead. Even now, the strap is properly threaded, but it does appear to have slipped quite a bit. I’ll investigate that more later when my head heals and I clean the blood from the helmet. If the strap DID slip, this could be a serious issue that will most definitely need closer attention for the safety of all pilots… I will follow up on this one in a week or so.


  • To my fellow pilots at Whidbey Saturday afternoon…
  • Thank you so much for your assistance getting back up the hill and tending to my injury.
  • Thank you for your care and concern, your friendship, and camaraderie.
  • To Andrei and Patti for their assistance walking.
  • To Irena for calling 911.
  • To Murdoch, for letting EMS know where to go.
  • To Irena and Andrei for stopping by the hospital, and of course, for the rhubarb.
  • To the good Lord, that things were not far worse, for they easily could have been.
  • To Cindy, Jenny, and Jackie who work at Whidbey General.
  • And lastly, for health insurance and for Percocet. Oh, man! Far out and WOW!

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