Please tell what happened and how it might have been avoided. Names should be ommitted. This forum should help others learn from mistakes that caused or nearly caused a mishap.
George Whitehill - 1981/05
Just Doing a Hang Check is not Enough
A hang check shows the pilot that he/she is the correct height above the bar. It also assures the pilot that harness lines and straps are untangled.
The point I'm trying to make is that every pilot should make a second check to be very certain of this integral part of every flight. In many flying situations a hang check is performed and then is followed by a time interval prior to actual launch. In this time interval the pilot may unconsciously unhook to adjust or check something and then forget to hook in again. This has happened many times!
If, just before committing to a launch, a second check is done every time and this is made a habit, this tragic mistake could be eliminated. Habit is the key word here. This practice must be subconscious on the part of the pilot. As we know, there are many things on the pilot's mind before launch. Especially in a competition or if conditions are radical the flyer may be thinking about so many other things that something as simple as remembering to hook in is forgotten. Relying on memory won't work as well as a deeply ingrained subconscious habit.
In the new USHGA rating system, for each flight of each task "the pilot must demonstrate a method of establishing that he/she is hooked in, just prior to launch." The purpose here is obvious.
Rob Kells - 2005/12
Following a recent fatal accident caused by the pilot launching unhooked, there has been a discussion on how to guarantee that you are hooked in. The two main methods are:
1. Always do a hang check before launch, and/or
2. Always hook your harness into the glider before you get into the harness.
Interestingly, NEITHER of these methods GUARANTEES that you will not launch unhooked some day. Let's add a third one:
3. Always lift the glider vertically and feel the tug on the leg straps when the harness mains go tight, just before you start your launch run. I always use this test.
My partners (Steve Pearson and Mike Meier) and I have over 25,000 hang glider flights and have managed (so far) to have hooked in every time. I also spoke with test pilots Ken Howells and Peter Swanson about their methods (another 5000 flights). Not one of us regularly uses either of the two most popular methods outlined above.
Mike Lake - 2012/07/22 09:44
I worry about launching unhooked all the time and the closer I get to actually committing aviation the more worried I get.
Anyone who has a 'system' in place that removes this worry is likely to launch unhooked.
It matters not what you do in the run up to launch as this can be some time before the only bit that really matters, the point of launch.
If you clip in before climbing into your harness and dismiss the possibility of ever launching unhooked what happens the one time you unclip to adjust a camera (for example)?
Ya ya I know, but I simply do not believe people are so disciplined they never ever do this (perhaps when no one is looking). Any system is 100% foolproof until it isn't.
The best system is the "I don't want to die system" the one that makes you paranoid enough to check you are clipped in just before your best chance of the day of killing yourself.
A bit like the FINAL check before pulling out into a stream of fast moving traffic earlier checks really have no bearing.
Tad Eareckson - 2012/07/18
1. We all do incredibly stupid things all the time. If the penalty for doing incredibly stupid things were usually mangling or death it would be a bad idea for ANYONE to fly.
2. Fortunately in aviation you almost always hafta do two or three incredibly stupid things at the same time or in rapid succession to get really fucked up.
3. Not hooking in is NOT an incredibly stupid thing to do. It's an extremely easy, extremely human thing to do.
4. CHOOSING not to EVER verify your connection JUST PRIOR TO LAUNCH, violating the regulations which require you to do so, and ignoring the three or four people who are constantly trying to get the message across is such an astoundingly stupid thing to do that I no longer give a rat's ass what happens to most of you Darwin cases.
Jesse Benson - 2009/01/25
I get what Tad is saying, but it took some translation:
HANG CHECK is part of the preflight, to verify that all the harness lines etc. are straight.
HOOK-IN CHECK is to verify connection to the glider five seconds before takeoff.
They are separate actions, neither interchangeable nor meant to replace one another. They are not two ways to do the same thing.
Steve Kinsley - 2005/10/02
I already see where the anger and grief take us. We need to do hang checks, double hang checks. And who was on Bill's wire crew? How could they let that happen?
When Bob Gillisse got hurt I suggested that our local institution of the hang check is more the problem than the solution. I still believe that. It subverts the pilots responsibility to perform a hook-in check. I often do not see pilots doing a hook-in check. Why should they? They just did a hang check and they are surrounded by friends who will make sure this box is checked.
Rob Kells - 2005/12
"Knowing" that if you are in your harness you must be hooked in, means that if something comes up that causes you to unhook for any reason, you are actually in greater danger of thinking you are hooked in when you are not. This happened to a pilot who used the Oz Method for several years and then went to the training hill for some practice flights. He unhooked from the glider to carry it up the hill. At the top, sitting under the glider with his harness on, he picked up the glider and launched unhooked.
Davis Straub - 2009/01/04
Forbes airfield, Australia
Forbes, day one, task one
Meanwhile there was dust devil carnage in the launch line. A dust devil happened right in front of Michael Williams and he and two other pilots who were hooked in were pulled up and flipped over. One pilot had two people trying to hold him down and they had to let go.
The pilots were okay and apparently the damage to the gliders can be repaired here in Forbes.
Eric Hinrichs - 2011/05/13
I went to Chelan for the Nationals in '95 as a free flyer. They were requiring everyone to use the Australian method, and you were also not allowed to carry a glider without being hooked in. This was different for me, I hook in and do a full hang check just behind launch right before I go. I was also taught to do a hooked in check right before starting my run, lifting or letting the wind lift the glider to feel the tug of the leg loops.
So I used their method and I'm hooked in, carrying my glider to launch and someone yells "dust devil!" Everyone around runs for their gliders (most of which are tied down,) and I'm left standing alone in the middle of the Butte with a huge monster wandering around. I heard later that it was well over 300' tall, and some saw lightning at the top. After that it was clear that no one is going to decide for me or deride me for my own safety methods, someone else's could have easily got me killed.
Hang Gliding - 1992/09
In the period from 1980 to the present there have been reported four fatalities resulting from total failure to clip into anything and one from failure to step through either of the leg loops (the same problem on the other end).
In doing a traditional hang check there are several obligatory operations between the check and the launch. One must regain one's footing, stand up with the glider, and possibly walk a few steps to launch position. This delay between the check and the launch has been a factor in fatal accidents in the past. Additionally, hanging from the straps does nothing to ensure that one has found his or her way through the leg loops. A secondary visual or tactile inspection must be made.
My hang check method consists of simply lifting the glider immediately prior to launch until I feel the suspension and leg straps tighten. The delay is eliminated and the secondary check is made automatically.
Allen Sparks - 2012/07/13
I've launched unhooked twice. Both times were in 1977.
One was a shallow slope launch, survivable. I sprained my ankle.
The other was a windy assisted cliff launch at Jean ridge NV - not too survivable.
Hanging from the basetube by my finger tips 40' over jagged lava rocks was my worst nightmare come true. Miraculously, I was not seriously injured.
Hang checks, walk through, visual inspection, checking chest and leg straps, etc, are essential items in the preflight process.
Hook-in checks are required by the USHPA SOPs (e.g. USHPA SOP 104.07 7-A-8 )
I used to interpret 'just prior' as 15 minutes. I now firmly believe that it should be done immediately before launch.
It is amazing to me how many USHPA-rated pilots do not appear to do hook-in checks just prior to launch. There are many examples on youtube.
I am not trying to argue that a hook-in check is fool-proof. I am saying that it is a USHPA requirement, that it is often not done, and that it should be drilled into our flight procedures.
I do hook-in checks per SOP, multiple times before launch, including 'just prior'/'immediately before'.
As an USHPA observer, I will not sign off for a USHPA rating until the pilot has demonstrated that they are doing hook-in checks consistently, just prior to launch, on every flight I observe.
Bille's Mother:Mark Johnson - 2008/08/31
As Mark Knight and I jumped in my truck to drive to the trail head, I could hear Kunio's kids crying, my heart sank even more, I felt sick.
Bill's Family and Friends:Bille Floyd - 2010/05/26
After hitting the ground I looked down at where my feet should be and knew it was Bad - then I looked back at my Mom and sighed. I wasn't going to be taking care of her any more.
Steve DavyHolly Korzilius - 2005/10/01
I don't know what else to say. I'm sitting here weeping for Bill. He was such a wonderful guy. So full of life and fun loving.
Nice article - thanks for sharing.
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