This is the most bizarre paragliding accident we’ve ever seen. In this video, professional kiteboarder Damien LeRoy makes the decision to jump approximately 150 feet from a powered paraglider and finds himself with a broken back, pelvis, femur, three broken ribs, and a punctured lung. Although this isn’t about tandem paragliding in the bay area, one of our tandem instructors is a powered paragliding instructor and believes there are lots of lessons to be learned.
Three seconds into the video, you see LeRoy flying his paramotor over the ocean without a helmet, reserve parachute, or any sort of emergency flotation device. According to the United States Powered Paragliding Association, there are more fatalities in paramotoring by landing in the water compared to any other situation. The lack of regard for safety is blatantly obvious. As experienced pilots, we come across the non-helmeted crowd from time to time and wince! This is the crowd that goes against the advice that is established and commonplace. Sometimes a kind conversation with someone who isn’t seeing the risk that they’re putting themselves into can change their ways. We don’t want to see anyone getting hurt, but usually people in the non helmeted crowd don’t respond well to these kinds of conversations.
What we see next is LeRoy in a riser twist. This is an uncommon situation that usually happens after the paraglider experiences a large deflation. Strong turbulence, acrobatic maneuvers done wrong, or poor recovery from pilot induced stalls or spins can cause large deflations that lead to riser twists like this. Marine air is usually very stable and turbulence free. Because of that, we believe that the riser twist that led to Leroy’s paragliding accident was a result of a lack of training.
Regardless of how the riser twist began, the video (as well as a video taken from another angle) shows the paraglider flying perfectly with a slight turn to the right. If there are enough twists in the risers, the pilot will lose directional control because his brake lines are tightly wound up. You can see LeRoy unbuckling his harness which is the best reaction if you know you’re going to land into the ocean. His paraglider drifts over land and instead of letting the paraglider fly into a tree, bush, the beach, or whatever was in front of him at 25 to 30 mph, he JUMPS OUT of his harness at 150 feet.
What makes this the weirdest and most bizarre paragliding accident we’ve seen is that LeRoy made a decision that made everything worse. Not only did he hit that tree or bush with a 25-30 mph forward velocity, but he slammed into it at a much faster downward velocity and with no potential protection from the paramotor.
In his interview with Good Morning America, LeRoy says that his decision to jump was “the best decision I’ve ever made.” We’re sure that LeRoy has since realized that this was a poor decision indeed. Our best wishes go out to LeRoy. We hope he recovers fast and that this incident becomes a wake up call for his future flying attitude.
What concerns us about this Good Morning America piece is that, to the unknowing viewer, a paragliding accident like this could happen suddenly. The story gives the impression that LeRoy’s outcome was the best possible outcome. The piece is lacking context. It makes for a better story, but isn’t accurate.