Analysis of Joe Parr’s Accident at Valle de Bravo

by Had Robinson
updated August 9, 2023

Important Note: the original published video of this accident has been withdrawn, unfortunately, likely by the instructor who was coaching Joe at the time of his accident or some dude who saw a way to make money from Joe's accident.  There are too many "instructors" out there who are incompetent and who routinely kill or injure their students.  Joe's accident at VB is a case in hand but, fortunately, it turned out OK.  A similar accident happened in Van Buren, AR recently where the "instructor" killed the student pilot.  Why he was not prosecuted for manslaughter is a mystery.  Because of lax FAA regulations with regards to ultralight operations, the incompetent and careless continue to kill and injure people.  Any fool can hang out a shingle advertising paragliding or hang gliding training, take people's money, and then injure or kill them.  At the current time, there is nothing competent ultralight schools can do except warn the public: MAKE CERTAIN YOUR INSTRUCTOR AND/OR SCHOOL IS CERTIFIED BY USHPA.  Even then, there are currently no mechanisms in place where graduates of ultralight schools are evaulated by a third party to see if they were trained properly.  Over the years, Southwest Airsports has encountered certified students who lacked the basic skills to fly a paraglider.  It is a free-for-all that continues.

The new video in place of the raw footage of Joe's accidednt has an analysis that is not accurate in some importart details, bad-mouths the general flying conditions of VB, and removes the culpability of the instructor that permitted Joe to launch in the first place.  In a word, this video is useless.

I have flown safely at VB for many years.  If you want strong conditions, go late in the season, if you want modest conditions go early e.g., November.  Launch early in the day and land before noon for a great introduction to mountain flying.  The "Hey! Look at this!" attitude of the new video of the accident is unfortunate.  There is nothing in the new video that analyses the accident except, "Don't fly at VB!"  In any case, VB is not a P2 launch or site.  It begs the question, "What was Joe doing there in the first place?"

Joe Parr has not been an USHPA member for at least 10 years and he is not likely active in paragliding.  Accidents like his frighten pilots out of the sport – he had good reason to quit flying.  Having nearly drowned twice at SIV's as a new pilot was a wake-up call to yours truly that our sport needs more regulation.  The risk of being killed by others is substantial.  I have seen over a dozen examples of people being killed, hurt, or terrified by incompetent instructors running SIV's.

All of us in the paragliding community are extremely thankful to Joe for making this video available for a time..  It was a good teaching tool.  The "instructor" was the one responsible for this accident.  He never should have permitted a new pilot like Joe to fly Valle de Bravo in strong thermic conditions.

Students should only enroll in USHPA approved schools in order to minimize their risk of injury or death.  Some USHPA schools do not meet USHPA standards, however.  It is a good idea to ask a prospective school for a few references from former students who are current members of USHPA.  If all of this fails, Southwest Airsports can recommend outstanding schools e.g., Eagle Paragliding and Fly Above All in Santa Barbara, among others.  This is extreme air sports and requires extreme instruction.

Here is my analysis of the accident.  If you see or think of something else, please let me know.  Safety in our sport is a group effort.

  1. Did not operate within the limitations of his personal skills and knowledge:  “[Sharon] is a much better pilot than I am – she can handle [the sharp edged thermals today]."  Why did the instructor have him launch in conditions that he cannot handle?  Why did he launch in conditions that would prove challenging for him?  See P. 228 of the Pilot’s Training Manual (PTM).  Note: later editions of the PTM may have slightly different page numbers.
  2. Flying very deep in the brakes:  He was flying a Gin glider and his hands were at the Gin label which is about an inch above the karabiner loop in the riser.  PTM P. 180, “If you try to maximize your climb rate by all the time flying around the edge of stall while doing turns in thermals, you will eventually go too far and enter a spin.”  He wasn’t even turning in the thermal so why the deep brakes?
  3. Failure to watch his wing when it was in trouble:  The pilot was looking at everything else instead of looking at his wing to attempt to fix the problem.
  4. Failure to realize that flying deep in the brakes will cause a stall:  The video shows the D risers of his right wing go slack just as he enters the thermal.  By now, it’s too late.  He would have felt the pressure slacken before they went completely slack.  He should have immediately let up on the brakes at that time which would have lessened the severity of the stall.  PTM P. 153 “If you ever feel the brake pressure start to decrease then immediately back out a couple of inches.  Softening of brake pressure is an indication of an approaching tip stall.
  5. Failure to dampen the surge after the stall occurred:  The right side (at least) of the wing stalls and then restarts.  It is likely that the left is also stalled but we can’t see it to be sure.  His hands are everywhere.  He does not dampen the surge of the right wing tip and it darts forward and he enters a spiral dive to the left.  He could have entered a full stall at this point to reset the wing (bury his hands and hold them until the wing stabilizes over his head and do the normal things necessary to safely exit the stall).  See full stall recovery on P. 149 of PTM.
  6. Did not exit the spiral dive:  He failed to let up on the inside brake, apply opposite weight shift, and apply outside brake in order to exit the spiral dive.
  7. Failed to disable the glider once it started re-flying:  He could have executed a B-line stall or reel in a tip in order to disable the glider.  Note that the wing was fine – no cravats, no twists in the risers, etc.  PTM P. 165 “Disable the main canopy by pulling in on the B or C risers.
  8. Did not properly deploy his reserve:  The pilot threw his reserve but did not let go of the deployment bag.  The handle in the pilot’s hand and the bag are visible.  His comment about being hurt was probably the yank on his arm when he failed to let go of the bag.
  9. Failed to secure himself to the tree and let go of the brakes once he landed:  Pilot should have grabbed any branch in sight and pulled himself to the center of the tree in order to prevent any subsequent fall.   Why was the pilot still holding the brakes?  PTM P. 162  “Let go of the brakes immediately after you contact the tree and make every effort to grab the largest branch you can get a hold of.

Joe did not know what to do because of poor instruction.