SIV clinics and a caution

by Had Robinson
updated February 6, 2021

I recommend that all pilots attend an SIV clinic or an equivalent of some kind periodically.  At Southwest Airsports we include some typical SIV maneuvers in our basic P2 instruction.  It is helpful for all pilots to learn how to control a glider in various situations that might occur during flight.  It is a modest investment for valuable training.   Among these are wing-tip folds, frontal collapses, and major asymmetric collapses.  Pilots can practice wingovers, full stalls (some instructors think this is inherently dangerous to practice), extreme pitch and roll maneuvers, and reserve deployments (always a potentially dangerous maneuver).  In the event of a mishap, everything is safely done over the water (for the most part).

On the down side, most newer pilots know nothing about towing at an SIV and its inherent dangers, especially lockout and drowning when operating over water.

Reserve deployments only work if there is little or no winds aloft.  What happens when a pilot deploys his reserve and drifts downwind in fast moving air towards a canyon?  A busy highway?  A mall parking lot?  An apartment building?  High tension lines?  I hope the reader has some imagination of the number of things that can go terribly – and deadly – wrong at an SIV.  How aggressive is the host?  Some European instructors are suggesting that being over water for most maneuvers is not any safer than being over land.  If you attend an SIV, do NOT fly a glider that has a rating greater than a low "B".  Preferably, fly an "A" glider.  Your chances of surviving the SIV are much greater.

If you go to an SIV, plan in advance what you would like to do.

I do not recommend doing any extreme maneuvers, such as full stalls or reserve deployments.  Even experienced pilots have had things go wrong.  The pilot below, among the more skilled in the U.S., came within a few meters of becoming cocooned in his glider at an SIV clinic after performing a full stall.  If that had happened, would he have survived?

paraglider full stall gone bad at an SIV clinic

At an SIV clinic, this pilot was launched just as a storm outflow boundary passed through.  She panicked, went downwind out of control into these high tension lines, falling to her death.  I went to pick her up and this is what I found.  She and I had just been visiting an hour earlier.  Her husband was also at the clinic.  Her body is on the other side of her glider.  The storm that was the cause of her death is still visible.  A fun time at an SIV turned into a tragedy including the loss of the site for future SIV's.

death at a paragliding SIV clinic

My intent is not to scare pilots away from SIV's but to warn them that they must decide what to do at the SIV and whether they should launch if conditions are not perfect.  The water is not much of a safety net if things really go wrong.  The best I can think of is that water does make a landing under a reserve easy (if the pilot does not drown).  Water may not save a pilot in an out-of-control spiral dive, tangled up in his lines/harness, or cocooned in the glider.  Hence, why the Europeans are not sure having water is any particular advantage.

Here are some of the things that have occurred at clinics, even when run by the best instructors and crew.

As a new pilot years ago, the most terrifying events I have ever experienced were at SIV clinics that included near death from drowning, being sucked into a thunderstorm cloud, and entering parachutal stall at launch due to a faulty winch.  Is this SOP?  I hope we can minimize this sort of thing.

Pilots must thoroughly research the parties running the SIV in order to minimize risk.  Most instructors want pilots to fly as safely as possible at all times  But there can always be cascading events which, alone, are harmless but, when mixed together, can be lethal.

I can recommend Eagle Paragliding in Santa Barbara, CA as a group who are very careful about pilot safety.  No matter how hard we try, sport aviation can be dangerous and accidents will – and do – happen.