Analysis of Joe Parr’s Accident at Valle de Bravo

by Had Robinson

All of us in the paragliding community are extremely thankful to Joe for making this video available.  It is one of the best teaching tools we have to help us all fly more safely.  I do not know who the instructor was.  In any case, he is the one responsible for this accident.  He never should have permitted a new pilot like Joe to fly Valle de Bravo in thermic conditions.  Incompetent instructors continue to cause injury and death to their students and this is why prospective students should carefully evaluate the credentials and experience of those in whom they put their trust and their very lives.

Students should only enroll in USHPA approved schools in order to minimize their risk of injury or death.  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 is he flying 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?  PTM P. 136 “In potentially turbulent conditions you should fly with a small amount of brake pressure (this is mandatory if at low altitudes – see the section titled Getting low in PTM).”
  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 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 should 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:  Pilot should 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.”