We all know that ground handling when conditions are dangerous is, well dangerous, but what about when the conditions are perfect? What are the hazards then? The following personal incidents show that even ground handling in perfect conditions comes with some danger, particularly for men!
My first incident with ground handling occurred in the training paddock on my first day of my training. I was training on a small hill, not steep enough to really get airborne, but steep enough to get just off the ground. The wind direction had changed resulting in the small group of students that I was with being moved to a different part of the hill by the instructor.
I was the first one ready and did a front launch and ran like crazy down the slope. As you do when training, my head was down, eyes were at my feet and not up looking at where I was heading. Just as my wing obtained a little lift, I realised that about 30metres in front of me was an electric fence!
The fence couldn’t be seen clearly from the launch site, particularly as I was looking at my feet as I started my run. It was one of those temporary ones that consisted of a single strand of electric wire with thin upright posts. Its really hard to stop running when one’s glider has picked up airspeed and is lifting you off the ground, particularly when you are inexperienced and have not really learnt the skill of a strong flare.
Anyway, as my toes obtained a little purchase, I tried desperately to stop and dig the rest of my feet into the ground. My little toes screaming for soil through my boots. I was relieved when I finally stopped just a metre from the fence.
However, the wing now travelling at near trim speed, continued its path over the fence in front of me and as it did so it pulled me with it. Unfortunately the electric wire was around groin level. It was even more unfortunate that it was ‘on’ and pulsing though it were some 15,000 volts!
I’m not well-endowed but there’s one part of the male anatomy that protrudes just enough past one’s thighs and that was the first part of my body to make contact with the fence. It was one of the few times I wished I was a girl! And it was the first time I realised an electric connection can be made through a pair of jeans!
After a few loud ‘zaps’ and what I would describe as ‘penile unpleasantries’ I managed to get off the damned thing. I think reflect had a big part to play. I’ve heard of electrical stimulation and electric shock therapy, but in the middle of a paddock with a group of people watching???
Needless to say the other students in the class were in fits of laughter from watching this incident. I think the instructor was somewhat embarrassed from not seeing the fence earlier. Apparently, as I had taken off and begun my run down the hill he had seen the fence and yelled madly at me to stop. Either I didn’t hear or he was just looking for a way out!
He said the fence wasn’t there the previous day- a likely story, given he was struggling to hold back his laughter which was evident from the tears in his eyes. Maybe he was thinking about the incident report! Mind you the tears in mine weren’t from laughing, however, it wasn’t long before I saw the humour and no serious harm was done.
The second incident in my ground handling experience occurred in a paddock where I now regularly practice.
When the fires of last summer devastated the place, most of the fences were burned. A barbed-wire fence surrounded the paddock where I practice and all the main posts were burnt off. The top wire was a little less than waist high and easy to step over as it was also quite loose.
Anyway, one morning after spending an hour or so ground handling, I packed up and began to walk back to the car with the glider in its pack and the pack loosely over one shoulder. As I came to the fence and stepped over it the loose pack on my back shifted from one side to the other. This caused me to overbalance just as I’d put one leg over the fence.
With the barbed wire between my legs and off-balance I again became concerned about my anatomy. I tried to lift my leg over the fence but I didn’t do a good job and fell over. This caused the barbed wire to get caught between my legs and tear down my inner thigh. To make matters worse I landed on my backside in a patch of blackberries that were growing on the other side of the fence!
I ended the morning’s ground handling session with considerable scratches down my leg from the barbs on the fence as well as a considerable number of blackberry thorns in my bum! However, I’m glad to report that the important parts of my anatomy survived once again. I did look around nervously to see if anyone had actually seen me, thankfully all was in the clear!
From that day on I’ve never climbed over a fence with my paraglider pack on my shoulder, I always take it off and lift it over any fence. However, this simple strategy became the basis for my third experience with paragliders and fences.
The owner of the paddock was becoming tired of stock escaping from his paddock due to the burnt fencing, so it was replaced. The new one was about chest high with a taut strand of barbed wire across the top, a couple more below that with a width of rabbit-proof fencing at the bottom. The type of fence where the gap between the lowest strand and the rabbit-proof fencing is just wide enough to entice you to go through, but narrow enough to catch your shirt on the barbs. I’m sure you know the type.
There’s no way you could get through the gap with a paraglider on your back and even risky trying without it.
Given my past experiences I wasn’t going to try and climb over this one with the paraglider on my back. I thought it best to lift the paraglider over the fence and then climb over myself.
One calm morning I headed off for my ground handling practice. I arrived at the paddock and took my glider out of the car.
My helmet, normally in the glider bag, was in the back of the car on this occasion. I put it on my head rather than back into the glider bag. I walked over to the fence and lifted the glider over.
As the fence was around shoulder height I had to lift the glider over my head, as I did the shoulder strap of the bag slid down behind my head, and as the bag went over the fence the strap came taut under the back of my helmet pulling my head with it over the fence.
Visualise this, if you can: A person standing on one side of a fence, which I might add is in a very open area, with their head over the one side of the fence with a 30kg bag hanging off their neck on the other. A very unusual sight! I’m most certain had my training friends been there to witness this, they would have once again been in fits of laughter.
Anyway, my neck was about 10cm from the top barbed strand of the fence.
I couldn’t lift the bag off my neck because it was caught around the base of my helmet. I couldn’t lift the bag up with my hands as they were on the other side of the fence.
I looked down at the barbs as the weight of the glider slowly pulled my neck towards them as the muscles in my neck and back lost their strength. I lined my neck up with a section of the fence where the barbs were separated the widest. I didn’t think about the prospect of being chocked on the fence but more about having the barbs skewer my neck.
Now as I think back I can see the headlines “Another paragliding accident- man chokes after being caught on fence”!
As the weight of the bag became heavier and my neck was slowly pulled onto the fence I became more anxious about my predicament. I strained to keep my neck off the fence but it got closer and closer. Just as my neck and shoulder muscles couldn’t hold any longer, I accepted the inevitable outcome- my jugular was about to be torn open and my life was about to end through the blood loss, but it didn’t happen- the glider touched the ground on the other side. My neck was about a centimetre from the top of the fence, the barbs just touching the skin!
Given the pressure was now released I managed to get the harness off the back of my helmet by lowering my head a little further and slipping the harness over the helmet. I looked around hoping no one had seen me. Thankfully I was again in the clear. I now don’t wear my helmet when I put my glider over the fence and don’t climb over it with the glider on my back.
In actual fact, whenever I see a fence I become a little agitated…although I have this strange reaction when I see an electric fence, but I won’t tell you about that.
So the moral of this story is that beware of fences, they often present dangers that are unforeseen! Funny how I’ve blamed the fences and not paragliding. And the next time someone says to me ‘that’s not a good launch because of the fence’, I’ll know exactly what they mean!