Listen to yourself. . .

I thought I’d write a few words about my crash on Pendle, early June. The video and commentary can be seen here:

Many pilots contributed their thoughts on this incident, and I’m grateful to everyone for their input to help make sense of events and try to learn and prevent future accidents.

The pilot, as always, is the major factor in PG incidents. As has been pointed out, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to go flying at that moment.

Currency? The UK was just coming out of lockdown. I’ve been particularly concerned about this, shielding someone at home, so hadn’t flown for over 3 months, and only have a few hours since October. So, currency very low, and a bit anxious about mixing with too many people.

Too eager to fly? Last chance before the weather turned bad for a long spell. I was hoping for a short flight just to get back in the air, early doors. We ended up waiting around for the wind to start and come on to the right direction. Not being current isn’t just about flying – it’s also how acutely our senses are tuned to assessing the conditions. I knew all about the probability of rough turbulence on such a hot sunny day with dry air, visible stability, wave clouds, wind across the hill . . . Definitely too eager. It’s not like me to be first off the hill but I thought I have to go now, expecting not to find much lift and to go down to the landing.

Misjudging conditions? Take off was fine, wind swung onto the face. Light lift all the way across to the gully, then gentle sink on the way back. Nothing to raise alarm bells. That went well . . .

Dealing with the collapse? The thermal that hit me was like a rocket, and the vario peaked at 7.8 m/s, looking at it frame by frame on Ayvri (great tool for analysing flight). Possibly it was so small that only the left half of the wing, closer to the hill, was in it, so the right side was either in still air or even the sink outside the thermal. Whatever the cause, I just had time to anticipate that something bad was about to happen before the right side completely went – looks like 70% or more on the video. But instead of turning towards the collapse and taking me away from the hill, the wing turned violently left 90° to face the hill, and surged violently, the lines almost horizontal. I don’t clearly remember doing it, but I must have braked sufficiently to catch this – thank you SIV instructors – as without inputs, this would have gone much worse.

As I swung back under the wing, you can see from the video that it stalls, and the tips almost meet.. Probably excessive brake, but possibly the horrible air I was in. Whichever, this turned out to be the best possible outcome, as I descended at about the speed of a reserve ride to land on my back without even bursting the camelback. I hardly felt that impact, just the horrible whiplash effect on my neck as my head bounced around like a loose button. There was enough wind about to start dragging me, and this felt like I was being pulled along, and slightly down, the slope. More evidence of some horrible turbulence as it had been almost calm all morning.

So, I walked away from it intact, but I wouldn’t dare to refer to it as a landing. Big thanks to Tim Gridley and Andy Elliott for landing nearby to assist, to everyone on the hill for their support and encouragement, Mark Wilson for helping carry my glider bag back to the car and to everyone who contributed words of wisdom.

See you in the air.

Brian Stewart