This was published in the DSC FB pages by Joe Goodger and also copied to Pennine Flight Club. As Facebook isn’t to everyone’s taste and it’s a poor place to find things, I thought it worth reproducing here as a longer-lasting record of an important safety message. There have been some massive clouds around recently, and this tale might serve to remind people of what can happen they can turn from fluffy gentle cotton wool balls into towering grey nightmares:
Took me a while to get round time wise, in writing up this flight that I thought I should share with folk. The day several pilots made Peterborough and surroundings... I made a boo boo!
I made some significant errors of judgement during an xc flight that led me further into the white room than I’d been before, and an experience I had never appreciated in the 24 years since I started flying. I led myself there with some bad decisions and some clouded thinking, literally.
I got into my mess after I decided to make a crosswind transition, leaving a lovely convergence base at 6600’ to another beautiful line several km away, I arrived beneath it at about 3000’ and started climbing, as I was approaching CB I thought I was close enough to the SW and sunny side of the street to keep clear of the cloud, but as I climbed the lift accelerated and I was simply closer to base then I thought and not near enough to the edge. At this stage though I was still feeling fine and could see a bit of a gap, an archway in the edge, out the side, which looked to be only a very short glide, wrong, it was too late, up and in I went.
At first I was confident I was very close to the edge, it was still very bright and I felt sure if I kept my heading, out I would pop.... I thought about bar and ears but decided it was too late for that as ears on my wing in turbulence aren’t particularly stable and getting bar on with them less so and would have needed to be done, pre white room, to be sure of my heading, so continued forward waiting to emerge.... it seemed bright, surely I would be looking at the sun any second now.... in my head I was thinking, it’s ok, it’s benign in here, I’m heading the right way.... when suddenly out of nowhere it struck me....
The first tricks my brain played on me were the weirdest sensations of no pressure at all in the wing, the brakes, the lines, my harness, I felt completely weightless! Then came visual effects that had me seeing and thinking that the glider was below, above, in front, behind, this side to that side, it felt and looked like being in a stuttering washing machine. I screwed up my eyes, tried to refocus, control my breathing and the panic that had started to set in. I tried looking up at my hands, couple of inches of brake on and they were up where they should be, this is my mind playing tricks, I know I’m hanging underneath this thing! keep going straight! Or was I? This was only maybe a minute or so after entering, but seemed like an age and still no clearer.
I convinced myself to try to continue while not trusting I wasn’t off course completely and heading further into the cloud somehow. The street was an almost solid line of convergence cloud that had looked to go many km in both directions and I’d estimated the cloud tops to be well over 10,000’.
At this point my fingers were lost to numbness too, as stupidly that day, I’d only taken some new gloves with me that I thought would have done the job!
During an earlier flight that afternoon I’d got to base at over 6000’ to find that the new gloves were no use, I had to bin an ambitious downwind xc to return to land and thaw out. Later on the hill I’d been given some hand warmers by a helpful fellow pilot, this inspired me to continue with the day and perhaps another chance at an xc.
My decision making with the flight plan on the second chance at xc was a bit ad hoc, I’d climbed out to base and headed downwind, cruising along the edge of the beautiful convergence line that RASP had so almost perfectly predicted for that time of the day, but it was late and not really worth a downwind xc as I surely wouldn’t get that far or beat any PB, even though I had a faithful retrieve driver on call that would pick me up from wherever I ended up. So I looked south, and chose to head past Chatsworth to the other lovely street, try a circuit flight instead, if I bombed I’d land at Beeley and drop in on a friend there, if it worked, I’d try to head back upwind and try to cross back home! That was the plan.
No feelings in my hands no sense of direction no clear thinking. I’d heard about this disorientation thing happening to people in this kind of situation, but I was not prepared for it.
My brain went through my choices and so I decided to spiral out of there before I went deeper and higher? That’s what you do isn’t it? It would also make me feel in control? It did, kind of.. I thought shit I have not spiralled this new wing yet and I knew I was already a few hundred feet above base, I worried I might over cook the spiral, worried about the exit if in cloud, worried there were sailplanes on their way home this way beneath me, so on and so on.
So I carefully tried... at first I was pleased as I had some sensations that seemed to be correctly interpreted by my brain, g force and pressure in my wing, brakes and lines.
But being too careful, my decent rates were not enough, but decided, now I had committed to this strategy I must continue as I had no idea where I was. I put more effort into each new attempt, of which a couple almost broke me free, only I’d exit too early and be immediately hoovered back up with the energy and the lift that still persisted everywhere I went!
I finally got safely into, and out of, what was probably close to a nose down and could see my vario black out on the decent rate and make the noise you usually don’t want to hear, the siren of comfort!
I emerged, but again exited the spiral and so quickly put in another, this time with visual references my panicked state was easing, finally I was free!
I happily continued to the ground and landed by my friends house, full of elated self-flagellation.
Why didn’t I anticipate the climb better and leave sooner? once I’d screwed up why didn’t I try to concentrate on my instruments? carry on flying straight? so on and so forth.
I’ve dissected and analysed the whole day over and over.
I learned a lot, largely of what to, and what not to do, to save from ending up in there like that again, and I learned all this, very luckily, from being in a benign friendly cloud!
It seemed like I was in there for half an hour at least, looking at my track, from disappearing to being truly free was all of 13 minutes....
My track showed that whilst in cloud I topped out at 7190’ and I’m estimating base was between 6300’-6400’ where I entered and escaped.
My fingers/ hands returned to normal quickly thanks to the hand warmers that kept my palms from freezing.
Although I have suffered a minor lasting physical effect, still the same a few weeks later now, whilst spiralling (to the left) I gave myself a constriction injury to my finger tips on my hand with the control line, I don’t think I had much of a wrap but due to having no feelings in my fingers for most of the flight this will have probably added to the damage.
I really didn’t expect my mind to play the level of tricks on me that it did that afternoon, now I know!