Authors note: The following (edited) true story of my “close call” in Bali was just published in Australias national civil aviation magazine.
(Bali – while things were still peaceful)
I’d test-flown this paraglider at 10,000 feet over the Himalayas. As far as I could tell, it flew fine. The pilot selling it was experienced and hadn’t had any problems with it. Plus my instructor knew the wing and said it was a good buy. The price was right so I snapped it up, and headed back to Bali excited for the July-August flying season.
I mean, they said it’s good, so it’s good, right?
The wind was perfect and the sun shining on my first day flying my “new” second-hand wing in Bali.
I flew back and forth along the Timbis ridge in the lift produced by the stable on-shore wind, and everything went perfectly.
That is, until Big Ears.
Big Ears is a basic technique involving collapsing just the edges of the wing to reduce wing size and lose height. I tried it several times but was losing too much height. This is known as a parachutal stall; not good, but not dramatic. so I under my instructor’s watchful eye and in radio contact, I took off for one final Big Ears attempt to make sure I was doing everything correctly. He had me gain more height and go further out over the ocean as a precaution, and watched while I did my last Big Ears of the day. I collapsed the edges of the wing, and it again went “parachutal”. But at least we now knew the error wan’t pilot input. So now about 300 feet above the ocean, and still quite close to land, I released Big Ears…and that’s when everything went to hell!
The wing surged violently and terrifyingly forward over my head, then fell back behind me, and surged violently again. I was so freaked out and hyper-focused on controlling my wing, I had no idea I was in full free-fall towards the earth. I also wasn’t aware that this was what a Full Stall feels like – something I’d only heard about in class. I just knew I had to control the wing, and that today might be the day I die.
The instructor was still giving me instructions on radio, but it happened so fast that to this day I don’t know if I recovered the wing on instinct, or because I followed what he was saying. But recover I did, finding myself about 120 feet over the water and heading straight towards the cliff. I managed to correct course, and scratch back up the hill to hop just over the bushes and land….falling to my knees.
The instructor said I’d followed every instruction, recovered perfectly, and that it was an equipment failure. Thorough subsequent testing showed the leading edge had less than one second porosity!! This means the air passes through the fabric in under a second, making it useless and not airworthy. The deadly trap was: the wing would fly perfectly well in most conditions; it wasn’t until something went wrong that it might not respond without vigorous pilot input. So the pilot who sold it to me had no idea the wing was an accident waiting to happen.
My life lesson from this?
When you do something scary – be it building a business, getting married, or switching jobs…..
In my situation, I could have read the manual for my new wing, and learned a tip that may have avoided the stall.
I also could have studied more theory and learned about parachutal stalls, and I could have had my equipment tested. (I’ve now done all three of these things).
For you, it might be creating a thorough 12 month business plan.
Clearing all the non-critical projects off your plate.
Taking counseling sessions with your future partner.
Reading every book you can get your hands on.
Or working with a coach.
It’s good to face the scary things in life.
And better to face them thoroughly prepared.
What’s a situation you’re scared of? No matter how big or small?
How could you thoroughly prepare yourself to handle it?
Post in the comments below.