Author: Wayne Heuer

I've been flying at Bulwer on and off for the past 3 years. In fact it is where I learned to fly. You could say that my flying frequency depends on the size of my disposable income but I love the site and the locals, and find them to be genuinely interesting animals, and those that fly even better Homo Sapiens.

I remember my first experiences as a student, but most of all; I remember, (after what I considered at the time to be a great day flying), Hans and Craig calling my brother and I aside, and literally blowing the wind out of our wings for flying dangerously close to the ridge and my brother for performing 360 degree turns immediately in front of the 600 take-off. I also know that their reprimand was for good cause, because as a student, I had zero-to-nothing understanding of the risks of paragliding flight. I am not sure that I received this at the time with much grace but the concern has stuck through the years.

I personally have always been an aggressive pilot in the manner in which I fly. I suppose that I like the adrenaline rush. I enjoy spirals and wing-overs, and generally don't fret too much about the conditions. I have never had anything major go wrong that I could not deal with in flight, until recently that is.

In all my time of flying I have applied caution to calculated risk and I think it is safe to say that I am an extremely confidant pilot. The thing is, you push and push the envelope and the skills do improve as well as the confidence and attitude. This is not necessary a good or bad thing but can lead to stepping over the proverbial edge and into the rude awaking.

Not too long ago (6 weeks), my daughter and I accompanied Alan Laatz to Bulwer and found the flying community at the Playground, doing their stuff in 20 - 30 Km winds. We did not hang around for long and were soon off to the 1000 take off. A short flight in fairly strong conditions resulted in me attempting a short XC flight. It did not work out well because I ended up about 200 meters above the playground. After a quick spiral and one or two curses at students in the air for not following the rules - you know; right is right, and all that stuff, I landed, and managed to catch a lift up to the 1000 with the gurus:- Bruce Yelland, Andrew Gordon, Paul Pallet and Martin VD Merwe.

The 1000 take off was strong. About 30 to 40 km/h with little lulls in-between. In no time I was off into the blue yonder and enjoying the strong roughish conditions. After some time Alan called on the radio to say that he had landed. I communicated my intention to land at Charlie's Pub from where he could pick me up and we could end the day with a couple of Brewskies.

All was well and I was on my final approach lined up with lots of height into wind. At the edge of the field at about 80m I was expecting some turbulence on my landing glide but the worst case scenario happened….. Rotor. BIG ROTOR! 80% or more of my leading edge folded in and the slow motion of accident recall took over. The whole incident took about 10 seconds but in my mind each action is played in detail and slow motion. My instinct was course correction, but my first thought was 'throw my reserve'. The glider had turned me about 180 degrees and I registered the power-lines behind me in my reserve descent drift path. I opted not to throw it, and allowed the glider to complete its asymmetrical turn and was confident that I might just recover into wing and touch down. How all this happened in my head in such short time span is one of the mysteries of the human mind. Anyway, I went with the years of experience and used the momentum of the glider to my advantage but with one major problem. I ran out of space. When I had completed about 300 of my intended 360 degree recovery turn, a deep impact was about to occur. (I am not a small person). I resolved that I had lost it, and gritted my teeth, lifted my feet, and went in bum first.

I bounced hard. Boy! Did I bounce!!!

I lay there amongst the brambles and let out a painful groan, which was not very loud but sounded like "UUUUUAAAGGGGAAA", followed by a self reprimand of "F@#$!K". After a short while help arrived, and I managed to stand up and walk away with a stable fracture of L4 & L6. I am a firm believer that any landing that you walk away from is a good landing, but this one shook the foundations somewhat.

Well that was my incident, but I must say "Thanks" to all those that responded, and gave assistance. Especially my daughter, (who I think got the worst fright), Shane, Alan, Hans and Bruce for his medical support. I must admit though, I'm not good at following doctor Bruce's orders. Two weeks later I was back in the air with a sore back.

If I have learned anything worth passing on from this incident, it's this:-

  • Never take this sport for granted.
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Fly close to the side of caution.
  • Check your decisions about where you want to land by examining the air movement on the terrain below.
  • Make the decision to land somewhere whilst the opportunity is available.

Cheers for now, and lookout for my next article entitled "BULWER: A WHOLE NEW EXPERIENCE"

Wayne Heuer