Is paragliding safe?

Is Paragliding Safe? A Data-Driven Perspective

TLDR: It can be when done properly, with quality equipment, training and a appropriate attitude to risk. However, it carries risks as us humans do not bounce…

Always remember: it is better to be on the ground any wish you were flying that to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.

The Reality Check

Paragliding’s risks became apparent to me on day one of my training in Spain. A chilling sight awaited us—an air ambulance on the scene for a critically injured pilot, following a mid-air collision that claimed the life of another pilot. I’ve since witnessed injuries like a broken ankle from a first flight and a fractured wrist due to a misjudged take-off. Paragliding has inherent risks, but with proper training and a responsible mindset, you can fly for years without incident.

Your first non-tandem experience of paragliding should be as part of an Elementary Pilot course. Check out our courses in Spain or Northern Ireland.

Air ambulance attends a paragliding accident in algodonales

Paragliding Safety Stats: A Closer Look

In a study spanning from 2004 to 2011 in Turkey, 82 patients were injured in 64 paragliding accidents, 18 of which were fatal, out of 242,355 jumps. This represents a fatality rate of 0.0074%. This is pretty low and comparable to car accidents. Also keep in mind that this study is over a decade old. Paragliding technology and safety measures have drastically improved since then.

Paragliding vs Skydiving: A Risk Comparison

Skydiving, with an analysis of over 62 million jumps, has an injury rate of 0.044% and a fatality rate of 0.0011%. This implies that paragliding, with a fatality rate of 0.0074%, may be riskier per flight. However, considering the number of jumps per day (often 10 for skydiving versus one prolonged flight in paragliding), the risks need contextual understanding.

Parasailing: A Safety Overview

Parasailing has had more than 70 fatalities and at least 1,600 injuries from an estimated 150 million parasail rides between 1982 and 2012, according to the Parasail Safety Council. Much lower than Skydiving or Paragliding. Hence, it is crucial to acknowledge that every aerial sport carries its own risks.

Trusting Your Paragliding Gear

Since its introduction in the 1940s, paragliding technology has significantly advanced.

Canopies

Today’s canopies feature resilient ripstop nylon and advanced designs like the ‘shark nose’ for increased stability. They’re graded from A (most stable, beginner-friendly) to D (high performance, for experienced pilots) using the ‘EN’ or ‘LTF’ certifications, aiding in appropriate gear selection.

Harnesses

Harnesses now boast in-flight inflating airbag systems for back protection during landings. They also incorporate compartments for easy access to the reserve parachute in emergencies.

Reserve Parachutes

Reserves are designed for quick, reliable deployment. Recent models are steerable for hazard avoidance during descent. The growing popularity of square or ‘rogallo’ reserves offers pilots increased control in emergencies. Annual repacking is key for reliable deployment.

Common Paragliding Injuries

The most frequently occurring injuries from paragliding are minor—soft tissue trauma, abrasions, and sprains. However, more serious injuries can include lumbar fractures, foot and ankle fractures, and tibia fractures. These injuries underscore the need for strict safety protocols and quality protective gear.

The Main Culprits in Paragliding Accidents

  • Pilot Error: Most accidents stem from human errors such as miscalculated maneuvers or poor launching techniques. Regular practice, continuous learning, and meticulous application of training can help avoid these mistakes.
  • Weather Misjudgement: Bad weather, sudden gusts of wind or unexpected thermal activity can lead to accidents. Proper weather education, understanding local weather patterns, and checking detailed forecasts before flights are crucial for avoiding weather-related mishaps.
  • Equipment Mismanagement: Equipment failure, though less common, can have serious implications. Regular gear checks, ensuring correct set-up, and timely replacements can mitigate these risks. Additionally, understanding your wing’s behavior under different conditions can also prevent mishaps.
  • Overconfidence: This can lead to taking unnecessary risks or flying in challenging conditions beyond one’s skill level. Sticking to a gradual progression in skills, respecting one’s current level of experience, and not giving in to peer pressure are essential for a safe paragliding experience.

Safety Mantras for Paragliders

  1. Regularly maintain and check your reserve parachute, with an annual repack.
  2. Perform daily inspections and pre-flight checks without fail.
  3. Opt for a harness fitted with a modern airbag to safeguard your back during unplanned landings.
  4. Constantly update yourself with weather forecasts and understand the site-specific conditions. When in doubt, consult a club coach.
  5. Never push your limits too far. If the conditions seem challenging, it’s best to postpone your flight.

Always remember: it is better to be on the ground any wish you were flying that to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.

Other notable questions:

Can paragliders collapse?

Unfortunately, yes. Thermic conditions, obstacles to airflow, or wind shear layers can all cause an asymetric collapse. This is where one side of the wing folds in on its self which increases drag and begins a spiral turn. These can be managed and lower graded wings and tandem wings are designed to self correct more readily than higher graded wings which are likely to require more proactive recovery.

Can paragliders fly in the rain?

No, as the layers of the paraglider can stick together when wet and reduce or stop inflation, which is key to creating lift.

How heavy is too heavy for paragliding?

Tandem paragliding wings can take a lot of weight when the wind conditions are right. Many are rated to take passengers of 110-120 kilograms. Total weight being 220-240kg including the pilot, passenger and any equipment.

For solo paragliding, again it depends of the weight rating of the glider and the wind conditions but many wings are rated at 100-130kg. Pilots should aim to have a wing where they site around 50-75% of the quoted weight range.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566014/
https://outdoorasaurus.com/paragliding/is-paragliding-safer-than-skydiving/
https://www.cravetheplanet.com/how-safe-is-paragliding/

Other articles that you may find useful:

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Max
Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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