Paraglider pilot gives client controls before crash-landing

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A Queenstown paraglider who let his tandem client take control for manoeuvres has outlined a dramatic crash-landing to authorities. 

Experienced G-Force pilot Dan Stephens, on a commercial flight from the top of the gondola, had to deploy his reserve chute before a rough landing on the road near the One Mile Roundabout. 

Afterwards, the passenger “was in shock and had a sore tailbone”, Stephens’ incident report to the New Zealand Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association notes. 

It also reveals the passenger was flying the glider doing small wingovers and Stephens had started talking her through a light spiral – when things started going wrong. 

“The passenger was flying the glider and doing some nice, smooth, small co-ordinated wingovers. She asked me if I could talk her through anything cool so I started to talk her through a light spiral.”

Experienced pilots tell Mountain Scene they wouldn’t let a passenger attempt either manoeuvre. 

Stephens’ report on the February 15 incident says: “I took control but too late to prevent the glider coming below us, it collapsed and cravated. I held stall position.” 

A cravat is when the glider’s lines go over the canopy – a stall is something pilots do to reset the glider, usually only in emergencies. 

Stephens’ report says despite continuing to try stalls he couldn’t get the glider to fly properly.

At that point, Stephens notes that even though it looked like he’d have it back under control within 100m, he had the minimum safe height to deploy his reserve so did so. 

“We were directly over the large trees to the north of the One Mile Roundabout. 

“I made the decision (based on the fact that the trees were very tall and spindly so unlikely to catch us) to fly away from them towards the lake so kept the glider facing towards the lake dragging us in that direction. 

“I realised we wouldn’t get that far, noticed no traffic on the road as we descended towards the roundabout. 

“When we were 10-15 metres from the ground I instructed the passenger to lift her feet (expecting the airbag and myself to cushion her impact). 

“I braked the glider hard and hit feet first then seat. Robin hit seat first, partly on top but between my legs. Robin was in shock and had a sore tailbone but got to her feet after a few seconds,” Stephens adds. 

In the report’s “Recom­mendations” section, Stephens adds: “When letting a passenger control the glider in any kind of manoeuvre, the pilot should have hands on the controls at the same time …” 

It’s understood the paragliding association will be investigating and the Civil Aviation Authority will also be made aware of it. 

Stephens declined to comment, saying: “I can’t tell you anything about it. I can give you the number of one of my bosses.” 

However, he texted soon after to say: “Sorry mate – no comment is the word.” 

Stephens is among Queens­town’s most experienced paragliding pilots and a past winner of the annual Acrofest competition, usually held at Kingston. 

Back in 2006, Stephens crash-landed into the trees during a solo flight near the top of the gondola while practising an aerobatic manoeuvre ahead of Acrofest. 

He had to deploy his emergency chute on that occasion too. 

At the time, he said: “I do push the limits with aerobatics. I’ve had a lot of reasonably close calls. It makes you a better pilot. 

“It makes you safer doing tandems [with paying passengers]. You take no risks when you do those anyway, but if you do get caught out, the fact you’ve done aerobatics makes you safer.”