Paragliding allows you to soar with the birds, gain a unique vantage point of the landscape and experience a true feeling of freedom. But the thrills of paragliding, like most other adventure sports, come with some risks. While no precautions are fail-safe when suspended in mid-air, you can take some steps to ensure your paragliding trip ends the way it begins--with two feet on the ground.
What is Paragliding?
Paragliding is an adventure sport that enables riders to launch from their feet and use a parachute-style canopy to coast through the air. The rider sits suspended in a harness and controls the mechanism with hand-held brakes. No motor is needed; the wind and gravity are enough to keep the pilot elevated. Paragliding is an appealing adventure sport because the equipment is easy to transport and the skill itself is not too tricky to learn.
As with most adventure sports, paragliding certainly carries some risks. Minimising those risks takes some effort on the part of the paraglider. It's important that paragliders, as pilots, are knowledgeable and educated. They should be sure to gain instruction on the sport from an experienced pilot. Additionally, before embarking into the sky, all paragliders should be sure their equipment is safe and in excellent working condition.
One way to determine the safety level of paragliding is to look at statistics of recent accidents. Each year, the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association publishes a public report of safety statistics for paragliding. Additionally, the organisation publishes an annual volume of articles related to safety to help pilots avoid hazardous situations.
The 2008 statistics on the safety of paragliding, published by the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, reported 42 paragliding accidents with injuries that year. Two of those accidents resulted in fatalities. That fatality rate is the lowest since 2001, when there were no reported paragliding injuries. A particularly dire year for paragliders was in 2003. That year, nine people in the United States died from paragliding-related injuries.
Poor weather conditions and bad decisions are typically the root of most paragliding accidents. Extreme wind, rain or snow are signs that you should not be paragliding. Most experts recommend the average paraglider avoid the activity when the wind exceeds 15mph. The condition of the atmosphere will also affect conditions. Pilots who note several cumulus clouds should avoid going out, as atmospheric instability may be present and cause turbulence during the ride. Conditions with rain and snow should be avoided, as it will be difficult for your paraglider to operate properly.
The best way to avoid a mishap while paragliding is to consider a few things. If you are not experienced, always go tandem with an experienced pilot. Experience is key to knowing how to avert potentially hazardous situations. Also, carefully observe the outdoor conditions before taking off. If you see clouds in the distance or the forecast is calling for increased wind, it's better to be safe on the ground than in danger in the sky. Furthermore, check and double-check your equipment before you go out to make sure it's in perfect condition.
The longest paragliding flight on record was piloted by Will Gadd of Canada, who coasted 263 miles (423.4 kilometres) in one trip. Gadd completed his world-famous flight in Zapata, Texas.