The End of The Road for TA – Part II, the Crash Report

TA on Final at Perry

TA on Final at Perry

Introduction

On Saturday June 1, 2013 I crashed my Ventus 2bx glider into trees on a mountainside near Moriarty, NM.  Miraculously I walked away (literally, as I had to hike more than a mile to the nearest road) with only very minor scratches and a bruise or two, but the plane was very heavily damaged.  It was the 2nd practice day for the 2013 Region 9 soaring contest at Moriarty, and it was my first time flying in this area.

This article is intended to describe, in as much detail and in as objective a manner as possible, the factors and decisions that led to a wrecked glider on a mountainside and the subsequent successful rescue effort.  Almost all aviation accidents occur at the tail end of a long ‘accident chain’ of events and decisions.  Quite often it becomes clear in hindsight that a slightly different/better decision by the pilot at an earlier time or position would have broken the accident chain and prevented the accident.  In the case of fatal accidents we wonder why the pilot made such an obvious series of blunders, but of course the pilot is no longer around to tell us why.  This particular accident certainly had the potential to be fatal, and in fact I’m still not certain why I survived at all, much less walked away almost completely unscathed.

I have tried to give this account in as objective and dispassionate a manner as possible, but of course there is no way to really do that.  I am certain that readers will find fault with much that I have described, and will find plenty of ways to say “boy, were you an idiot – I would never do anything like that!”   I am reminded of a quote by another soaring pilot that goes something like this:  “I told myself I would never do anything like that – until I did”.  I wrote this account for two reasons; first, I didn’t really understand what happened myself, and I didn’t think I could get past the mental trauma without examining what happened in detail.  Secondly, I felt I owed the soaring community an account of what happened, even though I’m pretty sure it will result in some (or a lot of) negative feedback.

Some Background

In 2011, Mark Hawkins (who happens to live now in Moriarty) and I gave a talk at the SSA convention entitled “GPS-based Sailplane Tracking”.  This talk described the then nascent SPOT satellite tracker and the beginnings of the SSA Sailplane Tracking List.  Part of the talk featured a description of the search and rescue effort associated with an August 2009 fatal sailplane accident in Idaho.  The pilot in this case was not carrying a tracker, and the crash site was not found until over 24 hours after he had failed to return even though the crash site was only about 25 miles from the gliderport.  As a result of this crash, Mark and I created the Hawke Tracking SPOT tracking application for contest and club use, and also worked with others in the glider community to develop and promote the SSA Sailplane Tracker List on the SSA website.  Little did I know that just over two years later, I was going to be the beneficiary of that same SPOT tracking technology.

I fly cross-country a lot, and I land out more than I really like to admit.  Consequently, my landout kit is probably a little more robust than some.  I always fly in jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and good New Balance running shoes.  In the last year or so I have also started wearing gloves (due to an unfortunate encounter with antibiotic-induced sunburn at the 2012 Seniors).  My landout kit includes a tow rope with a metal hitch ring, a book for those long landout waits, a carrybag with a long shoulder strap, my heavy-duty fabric canopy cover, and a small 2’ x 3’ waterproof rug for under-wing taping.  In addition, I carry a lunch bag with extra food and a second cellphone – a simple pre-paid Verizon flip-phone (I have found over the years that my primary Sprint PCS cellphone has poor or non-existent coverage in many soaring areas, but Verizon coverage seems to be much better in remote areas).

In addition to my landout kit, I also of course carry water in a large CamelBak, and I normally carry at least one 20 oz Gatorade bottle with me as well.  And, of course I have my SPOT securely stay-strapped to my parachute harness and within easy reach within the cockpit.  I also have a 121.5 MHz ELT, but I don’t really count on it for much as the 121.5 MHz satellite system has been decommissioned and typical VHF direction finding is not particularly fast or accurate.

Weather

The weather for the day was (I am told) a bit unusual for Moriarty in that it was not supposed to be windy at all.  Basically light and variable the entire day, with thermal tops between 10,000' and 14,000’ msl (4,000’ to 8,000’ agl).  Very few, if any clouds would be present.  So a relatively weak blue day, but light winds so the buoyancy / shear ratio would be reasonable.

Terrain

The terrain in the Moriarty soaring area is challenging to say the least.  Although not particularly mountainous, my impression is that there aren’t that many areas where a safe landout can be accomplished – it is basically an airport-to-airport operation.  The good news is that there are a fair number of airports and gravel strips, so keeping an airport in range isn’t an impossible task.

Task

The task for the practice day was a 3-circle TAT.  The first circle was to the north (Ortiz Mine), the second to the southwest (Monzano Peak) and the third to the southeast at Goat Mountain. A complicating factor was the white sands missile range restricted area, which forced pilots to either accept a significant deviation in the last circle, or to continue southeast to the center of the Goat Mountain circle.

Progress of the flight

Figure 1: Complete Flight Track

Figure 1: Complete Flight Track

This was a practice day, so there weren't any points on the line.  I viewed it as a good opportunity to work on blue day flying in an unfamiliar soaring area, but I was also determined to stay strictly within glide range of an airport at all times.  I did NOT want to practice my off-field landing skills in unknown and apparently hazardous terrain.

The first and second turn areas (track positions 13-17) were accomplished without too much trouble, although the lift over the Monzano mountains wasn’t anywhere near as strong as I had expected.  As I proceeded toward the 3rd circle (track positions 18-21), I noticed the winds had changed significantly, and the lift values and thermal tops were now considerably less than I had been getting earlier.  I had final glide to an airport at the center of the third circle, and I had pretty much resigned myself to landing there.  As I proceeded, I also noticed that the terrain I was flying over was not at all landable.  I could most probably put the plane down and walk away from it, but I wouldn’t be flying again the next day (or week).  Also, the wind direction had changed now to the southeast, which meant I was flying toward the lee side of a small mountain range situated just east of the center of the turn (and the airport I was aiming at).  I was worried that my final glide margin over the airport might degrade as I got closer to the mountains, but when I arrived I was still well above my 1000’ agl minimum margin.  I located the airstrip at Goat Mountain and tethered myself to it while looking around for lift.

I eventually found a 2-3kt thermal to 8500-9000’ msl (2500-3000’ agl), and was able to move on, as I now had final glide + 1000’ over the next airport to the north, back toward Moriarty.  As I proceeded I continued to find weak climbs, but nothing that got me back up into the teens.  I continued past two more airports (track positions 22-26), but when I arrived at the third airstrip at 14 Local, I couldn’t find the airstrip – yikes!  I was about 1500’ agl at this point, so I wasn’t totally desperate, but the terrain below me was not at all inviting.  There was a north-south 2-lane highway that I thought I might be able to land on, but there were almost certain to be obstacles within my 15-20 meter landing width.  In addition, the road was carrying some traffic, maybe 1-2 cars every 4-5 miles or so.  There wasn’t so much traffic that I couldn’t land at all, but it was definitely going to be ‘interesting’.  There were a couple of other places that might work out, but nothing that wasn’t going to cause significant damage to the glider.

All of a sudden, the character of my flight had changed from a potentially long but otherwise uneventful retrieve, to serious and potentially dangerous situation, where I was going to  have to make a landing soon, with only bad options to choose from.  I was still looking for lift, but mostly focused on trying to work out how I was going to make this road landing work.

About then I ran into some lift, and starting working a thermal that started out at about 1kt, and slowly improved to 2-3kt.  I was drifting downwind away from the road and into heavily treed higher ground, and the winds had picked up considerably.  I was now faced with another unappetizing set of choices.  I could stay in the climb as long as possible while drifting into even more unlandable terrain, or abandon the climb and run back upwind to a pretty much guaranteed damaging landing.  I chose to stay with the thermal, reasoning that if I could take it high enough, I could make it back home or at least make it to another, hopefully more visible, airport or at least landable terrain.

The climb started at about 7000’ msl and continued to about 9000’ msl, where either it died or I lost it.  At this point I had drifted well away from the road and any flat terrain, and I was well up into the treed foothills to the east of Gallinas Peak.  The terrain downwind was mostly trees, although I could see some flatter open terrain to the north.  I was about level with the crest of Gallinas Peak, so I decided to continue downwind and see if I could find lift on the upwind side of the mountain crest.  The winds were now 17-20kt from the southeast, so I thought there was a good chance I could find a ridge-induced thermal, or at least decent ridge lift I could work.

When I arrived at Gallinas Peak (track positions 27 - 30), I ran north along the ridge until I got to the north end of the ridge, where I encountered a very strong upward gust, which I thought might be my ticket home.  I immediately pulled up and to the right (away from the mountain), and planned to S-turn (figure-8) my way up to the crest about 100-200’ above, and then try to climb away in the thermal.  Unfortunately, as I completed the turn with my right wing parallel to the mountain, I discovered that I was being pushed right into the mountain, and almost immediately hit two very tall pine trees, and impacted the side of the mountain about 100’ below the crest on the east side.  The glider came to rest pointing up the mountain at about a 30-40 degree slope, with the left wing in two pieces the fuselage in two pieces, and the right wing heavily damaged.  The canopy was completely demolished, but the cockpit was miraculously not badly damaged.  Other than a couple of scratches and a bruised right foot, I was completely uninjured.  My soaring hat came to rest about 15’ from me in one direction, and I eventually found my secondary PNA (a brand-new Avier) about 15’ in the other direction, cracked and nonfunctional.  My RAM-mounted ClearNav unit was now in my lap, with a huge hole in the back where the unit had ripped right off the RAM mount

Decisions

As I mentioned before, most aviation accidents are the culmination of a long ‘accident chain’ of decisions/actions, any one of which if done differently might have broken the chain and prevented the accident.  So, what was the accident chain in my case? What were the decisions/actions that I made that if done differently would have produced a better outcome?

The decisions/actions that I can identify are:

  • Flying the practice day task at all, given that it was a marginal blue day in an unfamiliar soaring area.
  • Continuing the flight when conditions seemed to be getting softer.
  • Continuing the flight over rough terrain toward an airport (#46 Lincoln Station) that I had not personally verified as being landable.
  • Staying with a weak thermal even though it was drifting me away from (more) landable terrain.
  • Attempting to ridge soar an unfamiliar peak in gusty conditions.

Of course it is natural for me to attempt to justify my decisions, but I really don’t know what I would change given the conditions and situation at the time.  The decision that really put me in the hurt locker in the first place was the one to continue to the airport at Lincoln Station from #56 Monte Alto.  I had previously moved from the airport at #40 Goat Mountain to Monte Alto and tethered myself there until I found another climb, and then moved on to Lincoln Station.  However, this was just the continuation of my strategy for the day of always staying within good glide range (i.e. at least 1000’ above FG at MC 3.0) of an airport, as I did not want to try my luck at landing out in rough terrain.

When I replay this entire nightmare (or it replays itself in spite of my best efforts to not think about it), one of the things that strikes me is “what would I have done if I was able to locate the airstrip at Lincoln Station, and it was perfectly landable?”  As it turned out, I found that thermal that got me back up from 7000’ msl to about 9000’ msl, pretty much right over the airport (or at least where the airport was supposed to be).  So, would I have abandoned the thermal and landed, or continued on north into the high ground anyway?  I would like to think that I would have stayed tethered to that airstrip until I definitely had a conservative glide to the next one to the north (68 Road, I think), and when I lost that thermal at 9000’ or so, I would have gone back to the airstrip.

I believe the real cause of this accident was my unwillingness to recognize that I was in a fundamentally different kind of environment than I was used to as an eastern flatland pilot.  I have an absolute rule about never doing a dead glide to an airport that I have not personally inspected unless I sufficient altitude to get to the airport location at least 1000’ agl.  This gives me time to find the airport if it isn’t exactly where the database says it is, and to pick an alternate landing field if the airport can’t be found.  What I failed to appreciate about the Moriarty terrain (but is blindingly obvious in hindsight) is that I had been flying over really rough unlandable terrain for at least two hours, so the option of finding an ‘alternate landing field’ didn’t really exist.  If that airport that I was gliding to wasn’t there, I was going to be in a world of hurt.  If I had been able to consciously understand that I had lost an entire level of options, I may have decided earlier that I was in way over my head and either worked my way backwards over known airports or landed earlier.  I simply continued in the mindset of a competition pilot on a race day, assuming that the worst that could happen to me was a more-or-less uneventful landout, even in the face of plentiful evidence to the contrary.  Once that last airstrip failed to appear, the stage was set for the rest of the chain to play out.

The Rescue

In the following more less chronological account, I have included times to the best of my recollection.  Some of the times are pretty accurate because they came from the logs of the 911 responders, particularly the IERCC (International Emergency Response Coordination Center) folks that handle 911 activations for SPOT.  The initial SPOT 911 activation was logged at 0002 UTC, or about 6pm Moriarty local time.

After the dust settled, and I had gotten over the shock of discovering that I was basically uninjured, I immediately reached over to my right shoulder and pressed the 911 button on the SPOT.  This was an automatic reaction, as I was still hoping that I was going to wake up at any moment from this nightmare in my Micro-Castle.  My sunglasses went bye-bye in the crash (I later found one lens in the rest of the trash in my lap, but I never did find anything else of the glasses), but I was able to operate the SPOT because I had recently had clear-lens-exchange surgery performed on both eyes (another coincidental miracle) and no longer needed corrective lenses except for low-light-level reading.

The next thing I did was to climb out of the cockpit and stand beside what was left of my once-beautiful glider, and look out over the awe-inspiring terrain to the east.  I could see forever, but I couldn’t see a single sign of human habitation – no roads, no houses, no nothing.  I could just see the tops of some microwave towers a mile or two to my south, but nothing else.  The wind was whipping up the slope at what felt like 15-20kt, and it was starting to get chilly.  The thought occurred to me that it was going to be days before anyone could get up this mountain, and I was still in very serious trouble.  I had miraculously survived the crash with very minor injuries, but I still might not survive the mountain.

I took off my parachute and laid it on what was left of my left wing, with the SPOT pointing up for best visibility to the satellite, and I reached back in to flip my ELT switch from ARM to ON (I didn’t know if the ELT had activated or not, but decided I didn’t care – switching to the ON mode couldn’t make anything worse, and might make it better.

Next I pulled my primary cellphone out of my pocket, and discovered to my amazement that I actually had decent service.  I dialed 911 (thanks again to the CLE surgery last winter) and immediately heard something like “What is the nature of your emergency?”  I told the 911 responder (Josh, last name unknown) that I had just crashed my glider at the 8000’ level on a mountain peak somewhere about 60 miles south of Moriarty.  I knew I was south of Moriarty and east of the Monzanos, but that was about it.  Josh had an approximate location from my cellphone signal, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to be of much help.   I told Josh my navigation equipment had not survived the crash, so I couldn’t give him an accurate GPS position.  I also told him that I had a SPOT device and I had already activated the 911 feature, so hopefully he would be hearing from the IERCC (International Emergency Response Coordination Center) soon.  Josh wanted to know if I could see any obvious landmarks like road signs or towns, and I told him I couldn’t see anything but trees and desert forever to the east and north, and nothing but mountain to the west.  It was at this point that I started to realize just how remote this site really was, and I told Josh that if he had access to air support, he might want to start the process of getting something into the air. At this point I tried to talk Josh through the process of bringing up my SPOT tracking map via the SSA Track a Sailplane List, but the effort failed when Josh reported that “the site was down”  - VERY FRUSTRATING!!  After about 5-10 minutes, I disconnected from Josh to conserve battery, and started thinking about how I could get a better GPS fix.   I didn’t actually know if my SPOT ‘911’ feature was working, and I didn’t think that the cellphone location information available to Josh was going to help much, and might even significantly hinder the SAR operation.

I had several GPS-based nav systems in the glider, but they all appeared to be non-functional.  The ClearNav had suffered major damage, with a huge hole in the back where the RAM mount and connector area had been ripped away.  As far as I could tell, my Cambridge 302 was non-functional, and my Avier PNA was among the missing (I later found it 15-20’ from the cockpit, cracked and unusable).  The SPOT was (hopefully) pumping out GPS positions, but I didn’t have access to them. Then I realized that if I switched the SPOT out of 911 mode and pressed the HELP button, the SPOT would send out my “Help, I have landed out and need a retrieve” message along with the GPS coordinates of the ‘landout’ - aha! I would receive a text message on my phone, and would have the coordinates to give to Josh in case the connection from IERCC to Josh didn’t get made for some reason (I was afraid the ‘local 911 responder’ from IERCC’s point of view might not be the same as the 911 responder I was talking to).  So, I turned the SPOT off, then back on, and put it into HELP mode.  I waited  a few minutes, and then rather than look it up on my phone, I decided to call my wife who would also have gotten a HELP text message and email with the same GPS coordinates.  I’m very glad I did, because she had already been contacted by IERCC, and she was understandably distraught.  I was able to assure her that I was alive and well, although unsure how long I was going to be an involuntary mountainside camper/hiker.  Because the IERCC folks had left her a contact number, I could now pass both the GPS coordinates and the IERCC contact number along to Josh, assuring (I hoped) proper coordination.   I called Josh back and relayed this information, and then got started on how to survive the coming night.

It was now about 6:30pm, so I had at most a couple of hours of daylight left.  That wasn't much time to get a helicopter to me, and the wind had continued to pick up and was now pretty much howling up the mountain.  This combination made me think that a helicopter rescue was probably not going to happen today, and that I probably could not hike out to civilization before dark.  I hiked up to and over the mountain crest, considering my overnight camping options.  The lee side of the crest was in the late afternoon sun, and out of the wind and so was warmer right now, but I didn’t see any obvious shelter.  Also, I was concerned about wandering away from the crash site and getting lost in the dark, and/or having rescue personnel show up and not be able to find me.  I considered setting up a lean-to and using my parachute as a wind break, but didn't want to try that unless I couldn’t figure out something better.  I hiked up and over the crest and back to the crash site, where I suddenly realized that I might be able to camp out in what remained of the cockpit.  It was actually relatively intact, and some experimentation revealed that my normal reclined flying position protected me almost completely from the wind.  Although the glider was on a pretty good slope, it didn't look like there was any danger of it starting to slide, but I could always use my tow-out rope to secure the nose to a nearby tree.  I had my heavy-duty canopy cover and my parachute for warmth, so this was starting to look like the best option to survive the night.  I didn’t have a flashlight or matches or anything like that, but as long as I got everything done by dark I should be OK.  So, I had a plan to survive the night, and hopefully I would be rescued the next day, either by helicopter or by a rescue team hiking in.

Now that I had a plan, I took a few minutes to take stock; I was basically uninjured, in good health, and was in no immediate danger.  I had been operating on pure adrenaline for at least an hour before the crash, and for the 30-45 minutes that had since lapsed afterwards.  I had done pretty much everything I could think of to move the rescue operation forward, so now I just had to wait it out until help arrived.  I looked out over the valley, and was again amazed at how remote and inhospitable the whole area seemed.  I felt like I had stepped through a looking-glass somehow, going from high-tech flying machine to pre-historic times in the blink of an eye.  Somewhere along in here, Mark Hawkins called – he had seen the HELP message (he had been watching my SPOT track on his PC back at Moriarty), and was wondering how in the heck he was going to get a trailer into where I had landed/crashed.  I explained to him that the trailer wasn't going to be necessary, unless he had a way of airlifting it in.  Mark was mortified that he had encouraged me to come out and fly in Moriarty, and now I had crashed my airplane.  I told him I was most probably not getting off the mountain until tomorrow at the earliest, and asked him to call my wife and keep her updated on the rescue effort .

It was now about 7pm, an hour after the crash, and about 1 hour before sunset.  I had just started making final preparations to cocoon myself in my cockpit for the night when I got a call from Grady (last name unknown), who identified himself as the rescue coordinator from the New Mexico Search and Rescue Council (NMSARC).  This group has a lot of experience with rescuing lost/injured hikers/skiers, and were very familiar with remote location rescue efforts.  Grady had received the GPS coordinates supplied by the IERCC folks, and had plotted them on an accurate topo map of the area.  He was able to tell me that there was a service road to the microwave towers I could see in the distance, and if I was able to hike about 1 mile due south, I should be able to intercept the road and rendezvous with a sheriff’s deputy currently heading in that direction.  This was GREAT news – I might not have to spend the night up here after all!  I looked to the south and compared what I was seeing to what Grady was telling me; I could see that I would have to traverse a saddle in the ridge line and work my way up and over a higher peak to the south to get to the road, but it looked doable.  Grady and I compared notes, and he agreed that the terrain features he was seeing on the topo map matched what I could see from where I was.  I told Grady I would make some preparations and call him back when I was ready to set out.

By 7:13pm I was ready to go.  I pulled my landout kit out of the glider, and stuffed my canopy cover and my small waterproof rug into it.  I strapped my CamelBak onto the back of my parachute, which I then strapped back on.  My lunch bag with my remaining food and an almost-full Gatorade bottle got strapped onto the front of the parachute where I could reach it easily on the hike, and my landout bag went over my shoulder.  I knew that the greatest danger I faced now was getting injured or lost on the hike south, and I was determined to take whatever I needed to survive a night in the open.  My SPOT was still strapped to the parachute, and I had put it back in 911 mode, so at least the eventual rescue party would be able to find my body if I didn't make it out.

Before I left I looked around for a few moments, as I was pretty sure I wasn't ever coming back here one way or another.  I thought to turn off the O2 bottle valve, and I tried but failed to remove the O2 regulator and EDS pulse-ox system, as it was a loaner from a friend and I didn't want to leave it behind.  I gave up when I realized I was wasting valuable sunlight time, and it would be ironic to be killed by a balky EDS system at this point.  I didn't realize until much later that I hadn't thought to turn the ELT off (rats!) or take any cellphone photos of the crash site (double rats!), but those items were pretty far down my must-do list at the time.

I called Grady, told him that I was starting out, and made arrangements for him to call me in an hour at 8:13pm for an update on my status, in case I got injured or lost during the trip out.  Then I set off at an easy pace, with a handy tree limb fashioned into a walking stick.

The first part of the hike was downhill and easy, as I traversed the first part of the saddle.  A forest fire had gone through the area about 5 years ago, so there were a lot of downed trees to negotiate, and a lot of brush, but nothing really too hard.  However, once I started back up the other side of the saddle, things got a little more interesting.  I was in pretty good shape overall, but hiking up a steep mountainside at 8000’ msl was definitely outside my comfort range.  I kept going (what other choice did I have?), but tried to be very conservative about how hard I pushed and what route I took.  There were a few game paths, but mostly I just zig-zagged back and forth a few hundred yards at a time.  Every 15-20 minutes I stopped for a few minutes and took a break and a drink, but I knew I was fast running out of daylight.

When I started the hike, I almost immediately lost sight of the microwave towers that were supposed to be the terminus of the service road.  As I progressed south, I began to wonder whether I was still going in the right direction, or had I somehow managed to get off on the wrong ridge.  I knew the microwave towers were at the highest point of Gallinas Peak at about the 9000’ level, and I knew I was heading toward that peak, but it still bothered me that I still couldn't see anything like a tower through the trees. I resolved that I would continue as planned, and If I didn't find the towers or the road by the time I reached the highest peak, then I would camp there for the night.  All this time I wasn't really thinking about anything but the next step, then the next place to turn back for the next part of the zigzag route, and the best route up the mountain.  I felt I had to concentrate solely on this one task if I wanted to get out of this mess safely (track positions 13-17).

At 8:13pm I hadn't heard from Grady, so I stopped to give him a call.  Just as I was getting ready to stop, I realized two very important things.  I could now see the microwave towers again, and I could see what I later confirmed to be the service road up to the towers.  It was starting to get dark, but I could see that I was going to make it to the road before I ran out of daylight.  Before I called Grady I considered my options; I was now sure I could make it to the road, but I wasn't sure what to do after that.  I could continue up to the microwave towers, hoping to find some shelter where I could wait for the sheriff’s deputy, or I could start down the mountain, hoping to meet the deputy’s car on the way.  I didn't like either choice, but my dislike of a further uphill trek was overridden by the image of getting run over in the dark by the very person sent to rescue me, so I resolved to go on up to the towers.  I called Grady to tell him this, but got voice mail instead.  I left the message that I had the road in sight, and that my plan was to continue along the road up to the towers.

By 8:15pm or so, I reached the service road, and was never so glad in my life to see some sign of civilization.  I was actually quite impressed with the road – it was just a dirt road, but it looked like it had been well maintained, and I could see where some fallen trees had been recently cleared away.  Just as I sat down on a cut tree stump to take a break, I heard a curious rhythmic thumping sound, kind of like a tracked vehicle of some sort.  I looked down the mountain and saw a pair of headlights coming, and soon saw that it was a 4-wheel drive pickup truck, presumably the deputy.  As he approached, I grinned and put out my thumb – feeling a little giddy that maybe this was all going to end well after all.  Out of the truck comes a very large deputy sheriff, one Ron Fulfer, who fortunately saw the humor in a hitchhiking glider pilot on the side of a mountain road in the middle of nowhere.  He asked to see my driver’s license and after verifying that I was indeed the guy he was looking for, called in to his dispatcher with the news that he was with the pilot and I appeared uninjured.

Crash Site

Figure 2: The crash site and the hike out

Figure 2: The crash site and the hike out

As it turned out, the day’s adventures weren't over quite yet.  The ‘tracked vehicle’ noise I had heard as the truck rolled up was due to the fact that the sheriff was running on a flat tire – and he didn't have a jack.  He had continued up the mountain on the flat, but there was no way we were getting back down again without swapping out the tire.  After talking about it for a few minutes, we decided to continue up to the towers, figuring we could turn around there and wait for a wrecker, and maybe there would be someone up there with a jack.  On the way up to the towers, I called my wife and told her I was OK and with the deputy, so everything was going to work out.  Then I called Mark and told him the deputy had offered to take me all the way back to Moriarty, and he agreed to wait there for me.

When we got to the top, we found there was indeed someone there, and they did have a jack.  Turns out one of the structures there is a fire tower, and it was ‘manned’ by a lady forest ranger.  She told me she had actually seen me go by below the tower on my way north, and was very concerned when she didn't see me come back south.  She almost (but apparently didn’t) call 911 herself.  In any case, she had also experienced a number of flat tires on the service road, and carried *two* spares and a hydraulic jack – yay!

Deputy Fulfer called off the wrecker, and the two of us set to work on swapping out the flat.  It wasn't the easiest tire job I've ever done – it was on uneven ground, at night, on top of a 9000’ mountain, but on the other hand I was highly motivated to get it finished so I could get the heck out of there.  Within half an hour or so, we had thanked the ranger and were heading back down the road.   It took a loonnnng time to get down off the mountain, and we drove at least 20 miles through god-awful terrain before we hit the first paved road.  On the way we passed numerous splits and side roads; I realized that if I had decided to go downhill instead of uphill when I got to the road, I might still be out there wandering roads to nowhere – yikes!

About 2 hours later (I’m guessing around 11pm) we rolled up to my truck at Moriarty airport.  Mark was waiting for me in his truck, and after thanking deputy Fulfer profusely, Mark and I repaired to the Micro Castle for a beer.  We talked for about an hour, and then Mark went home to bed and I took a shower and tried to get some sleep.  At about 3:30 am I gave up on sleep, and decided instead to start back home.  There was absolutely no reason for me to stick around at Moriarty, and I was 1500 miles from home and a very distraught wife.  By 4:30 I had loaded the camper up on the truck and was on my way home.

Timeline Summary

This is the timeline as well as I can reconstruct it – all times are local

1700:  Arrived over Lincoln Roads airstrip, but couldn't find it.

1800: Crashed onto the eastern slope of Gallinas Peak, at the 8000’ level.

1802: IERCC receives first SPOT 911 activation. The duty officer at the time was Delray Bruce, and he immediately reached my wife Jo Anne at the primary emergency contact number.  She was able to tell them that in all probability the 911 activation was a real emergency.  Delray told Jo Anne that they would immediately start rescue procedures, starting with alerting the local 911 responder.  IERCC’s policy is to start with the sheriff’s office for the county in which the activation occurs, as there is a sheriff’s office for every county in the USA (In Canada, the first contact is with the RCMP).  Delray left his contact information with Jo Anne, and promised to keep her in the loop with regular updates.

1801/2: I call 911 and get Josh in the Torrance county 911 dispatch office.

1803:  I switch my SPOT from 911 to HELP mode so I will (hopefully) get a text message containing the correct GPS position info

1807: I call Jo Anne to tell her that I’m OK, and find out that IERCC has already contacted her, and has the correct GPS location

1810: Josh, the Torrance county 911 responder, is contacted by IERCC with the GPS coordinates from my SPOT.

1812: I call Josh with the same information, and am told he is already in contact with IERCC (at this point I’m still a bit confused, because up to now I knew the IERCC folks as ‘GEOS’.  Turns out that GEOS is the company name and IERCC is the functional entity).

1900: I get a call from Grady of the NMSARC, with the information that there is a road 1 mile due south.  If I can get there, they can arrange for a sheriff’s deputy to pick me up on the road.

1913: I start walking

2013: I can see the towers and the road

2030: I am at the road and am almost immediately met by the sheriff’s deputy

2100: IERCC notified that I was with the deputy, and they could stand down

2130?: Flat tire fixed, headed down the mountain

2300?: Arrive back at Moriarty.

Lessons Learned

  1. Arguably, this entire story could have been avoided if I had consciously understood and acknowledged a basic fact about at least this section of the Moriarty soaring area – except for airports the entire area is basically unlandable, at least as far as I could determine.  I couldn't really see any area that wasn't covered with sagebrush, scrub trees, or obviously rolling terrain, cut up with arroyos or other impediments to landing.  A landing in any of these areas was most probably going to result in significant damage to the glider.  This by and of itself wasn't unmanageable, as I had planned all along to stay within easy glide range of an airport, and did so for the entire duration of the flight.  What I failed to consciously take into account was what was going to happen if Plan A (get high, stay high, go fast) didn't work and the Plan B airport failed to materialize.  If I had really thought consciously about this, I would hopefully have realized that I was in over my head and the best thing to do was to either get high enough to get all the way home in one shot (or at least to get into the more landable terrain nearer Moriarty), or to land where I knew I had a viable airport and accept a longer (but otherwise uneventful) retrieve.
  2. There were some things missing from my landout kit that I plan to have in there the next time I go flying.  I didn't have a flashlight of any sort, and I didn't have any means of making noise if necessary (i.e. a whistle).  I don’t like flashlights in landout kits because the batteries are invariably dead when you need them, but it sure would have been nice to have had one when I was contemplating an overnight stay in the mountains – so maybe a wind-up flashlight of some sort.  A whistle could have come in real handy to assist a rescue team in finding me if I had been incapacitated.  Also, I didn't have a spare pair of reading glasses in there, and that could have been a major problem.  Fortunately my eye surgery last winter gave me good enough near vision to get by on, but I still plan to put a pair of cheaters into my kit.
  3. The landout kit I did have functioned pretty well; I had rope, food, water, covering material (canopy cover, waterproof rug, parachute), two different cellphones (both of which had coverage in this particular case), and a bag with a long enough strap so I could put it over my shoulder.
  4. I have seen lots of pilots flying in shorts, T-shirts, and somewhat flimsy shoes, and I have always refused to do that.  I always wear good jeans, a long-sleeved fishing shirt and a good pair of running/training shoes.  I don’t really want to think about having to make the hike I did without good shoes, and/or spending the night out on the mountain in shorts and a T-shirt.
  5. If you need glasses to see or read, make sure you have a spare pair tucked away where they will survive a crash.  The ones you are wearing will be destroyed in the crash!  I did eventually find one lens of my ‘reader’ sunglasses, but I never found the frame or the other lens.
  6. If you are a cross-country pilot and don’t have a SPOT or Delorme InReach unit – get one, and put its URL on the SSA Sailplane Locater List.  Although in this particular case I might have been able to walk out of the crash site without the help of accurate GPS positioning info, it was much more likely that I would have been incapacitated to some degree, making a self-rescue impossible.  In that much more probable scenario, my SPOT would have literally saved my life.
  7. The SSA Sailplane Locator List, a potentially life-saving feature on the SSA website has become too hard to use for its original purpose – locating downed pilots in remote areas.  The link to the list is now buried under the ‘Member Resources’ menu, and the ‘Track a Sailplane’ magnifying glass icon that used to link directly to the locator list has been hijacked by the new ‘Live Tracker’ application (Figure 3).  When Mark Hawkins, Doug Easton, I and several others created the Sailplane Locator List years ago, we specifically made sure that the magnifying glass icon would be prominently displayed so that 911 responders or other law enforcement personnel could be directed there easily by anyone concerned about a missing pilot.  We made sure it was easily visible and accessible whether or not you were an SSA member, just for the type of situation I found myself in (and this was the subject of some heated discussions at the time).  When I tried to direct Josh to the locator list, I told him to look around on the home page for the magnifying glass icon because I wasn't aware that it had been hijacked by the live tracking feature.  When he clicked on the link (and then the stupid ‘Accept’ button), he got the error message shown in Figure 4 below BECAUSE THE LIVE TRACKER APPLICATION DOESN'T WORK WITH INTERNET EXPLORER – THE BROWSER THAT MOST EMERGENCY SERVICES DISPATCHERS STILL USE!!!!    .  If I had been incapacitated and unable to activate the SPOT 911 mode, it is quite likely that someone (maybe Mark Hawkins or my wife) would have tried to get the local 911 responder to access the Sailplane Locator list to provide them with SPOT tracking information and it most likely would not have worked, denying the rescuers critical position information.  Of course, the locator list link IS available under the ‘Member Resources’ menu, but  IMHO it was somewhat short-sighted to re-purpose a well-thought-out and useful safety feature (the magnifying glass icon and the underlying locator list) with what is essentially marketing eye-candy that has nothing to do with safety.  It was more than a little bit ironic that I, as one of the original creators of the Sailplane Locator List, wasn't able to get the 911 responders connected to it during my emergency.
Figure 3:  Can you find the Sailplane Locator List on this page?  Hint - it isn't the circled icon anymore

Figure 3: Can you find the Sailplane Locator List on this page? Hint - it isn't the circled icon anymore!

Figure 4: Live Tracking Site Internet Explorer Error

Figure 4: Live Tracking Site Internet Explorer Error 

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning of this account, most serious accidents are the result of a chain of events or decisions. Changing any one of these links could break the chain and prevent the accident.  Some of the links are known to or controllable by the pilot, and some aren't.  In my case, I think the links were the following:

  1. Less than stellar practice day weather.  If this had been an 18,000 day with cloud streets forever, the accident probably would not have occurred.
  2. An unanticipated change in wind/weather conditions late in the day.  The day started out with light & variable winds as forecast, but later in the day the winds picked up to 17-20kt out of the southeast, with a concomitant degradation in the B/S ratio.
  3. Rougher terrain than expected – at least for me.  The terrain around Moriarty seemed to be much more landable than the area to the south where I wound up, and as a newcomer I wasn't aware of that.  I assumed that landout opportunities might not be particularly convenient, but there would at least be some!
  4. A missing airport at Lincoln Road.  It may be there, but I couldn't find it and I was looking pretty hard for a pretty long time.
  5. Pilot unfamiliarity with the area, and a ‘flatland mindset’ regarding Plan C – find an acceptable alternative landing field if Plan A (stay high and go fast) and Plan B (land at an airport) don’t pan out.

If any one of factors 1-4 had been taken out of the chain, the accident would probably not have occurred.  Given that all four were present at the same time, then the 5th link noted above was the only thing standing between me and a mountain.  I wasn't smart enough to figure that out ‘on the fly’ and take corrective action or land safely while I still had the opportunity to do so.

As a postscript to this account, I would like to thank all the people who called and wrote and emailed to tell me that it was OK to survive, and that they hoped I would be back soaring soon – I was truly an emotional basket case and such widespread expressions of support (I even got one from a Swedish national pilot I met through Condor) helped A LOT!  I especially want to thank Mark Hawkins (OS), who besides being a long-time friend and business associate, was right there waiting when deputy Fulfer finally delivered me to the Moriarty airport.  He stayed with me that night until he was sure I was OK, and offered to stay the night in the Micro Castle if necessary.  Since then he has tirelessly handled all the problems I left in my wake at Moriarty, including unpaid bills and an orphan trailer.  Thanks Mark – I owe you big time.

Frank Paynter (ex-and-possibly-future TA)

Share Your ExperienceAviation Safety Culture includes discussion of your own experiences and errors which everyone can learn from.  Have you experienced or witnessed incidents which could be interesting for our readers?

Share your experiences with others!  Flight safety in gliding can only be improved when incidents are worked through and the findings distributed.

Write to: helge@soaringcafe.com, we will publish any suitable letters received. Please let us know if you prefer to not have your name or other identifying information to be disclosed.

Frank Paynter

Dr. Frank (TA) Paynter has a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He retired from a successful 25-year civil-service career in 1993 and spent the next 15 years as a antenna researcher at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, retiring again in 2008 to become a full-time soaring bum.He is the author of the book “Cross Country Soaring with Condor”, co-authors (along with Scott Manley) the popular Condor Corner column for ‘Soaring’ magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Condor section at SoaringCafe.com.Along with Mark Hawkins, he is part owner of Hawke Tracking, the company that provides SPOT tracking services for contests and clubs. Before soaring came along, Frank was a national champion skydiver and still holds the record for the most number of consecutive dead-centers in skydiving competition. Frank started soaring in the mid-1990’s at Caesar’s Creek Soaring Club near Waynesville, Ohio and instantly fell in love with Cross-Country racing. Now he goes to as many contests as his wife of over 30 years will allow, and spends his winter months racing and instructing in Condor.

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  29 comments for “The End of The Road for TA – Part II, the Crash Report

  1. Dan Daly
    June 22, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Frank – thank you for the thoughtful analysis. Two survival kit thoughts:

    First, although you have 2 cellphones, you mention turning one off to conserve battery; this is sub-optimal in a survival situation. I recently read an article at Tom Knauff’s operation detailing what people carry in their survival kits. One item that surprised me was a connector from the aircraft battery to your cellphone – I’d never heard of doing that, but I’ve since added one to my outlanding/survival kit. I used a car 12v connector (Radio Shack or Harbor Freight (Princess Auto in Canada), then a usb power converter, and tested it – it works great. You can top off your primary cell battery, since you will be making a lot of calls, out of the significant battery reservoirs we typically carry.

    Second, for the flashlight, at Harbor Freight, you can get a small pack of LED flashlights, with 3 AAA batteries; just larger than a 12 guage shotgun shell. They put a small plastic disk in them that you remove to make the flashlights functional – if you leave it in, you will ensure you have power in them when you need it (obviously, you must remove the disk to do so). I replace the batteries annually. LED power consumption is low.

    When I was in the RCAF, they would occasionally inventory personal survival equipment after a flight, and when things were not busy, the CO would select a few people (who may have been on his mind for other reasons) to do a few days survival training – with only those things they carried on their last inventory flight. Doing a night of camping with your customary survival equipment might be uncomfortable, but it does point out shortfalls (I now carry deep woods off bug juice pouches in my survival kit, and an orange wool watch cap/toque). Make a night of it – challenge your club-mates to an evening of survival under their wings.

    I assume you tried your a/c radio (121.5, 123.45, etc) but that it was broken due to the fuselage break? Lotsa high flyers would love to help you…

    I’m glad you’re ok. See you on MNS East in the fall.

    Dan
    2D (2DA in Condor)

  2. June 22, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Frank I am at a loss for words .. what an incredible write-up. So glad you’re here.
    Curt Lewis- 95

  3. Glenn Holden
    June 22, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks for post this Frank, it’s an incredible story and very eye opening. Glad it worked out, and looking forward to seeing you again in the future.
    Glenn Holden – GH

  4. Bill Daniels
    June 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Frank, to one who grew up in New Mexico, your story reads like a “tenderfoot’s tale”. Moriarty is one of the premier soaring areas in the world but you have to adapt to it because it won’t adapt to you.

    Part of that “adapting” is to become intimately familiar with all land out options BEFORE flying in the area. The Albuquerque Soaring Club has from many years published a list of land out fields with pictures. http://www.abqsoaring.org/turns_view.php?scouted=on I’m sure the ASC guys would have shown it to you if you’d asked. Or, you could have just Googled “Moriarty landout fields”.

    Your use of the word “airport” to describe Lincoln Station is telling. Like many others, it’s an abandoned dirt strip which hasn’t seen maintenance in many decades.

    • June 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm

      Bill,

      You are absolutely correct that I didn’t do my homework well enough, and that is a mistake that I will try not to make again. I make a practice of hand-constructing a task area map for every new site, as I find it forces me to actually look at the area in SeeYou and Google Earth. I did the same thing for Moriarty, but obviously it wasn’t thorough enough.

      Just call me Tenderfoot,

      Frank

      • Bill Daniels
        June 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm

        Frank, you are to be complemented for being so open. If everyone was as generous as you, we’d all learn some critical flying lessons.

        For others, it will become obvious that a lot of the information found on Sectional Charts and airport directories for the Rockies and further west is wishful thinking at best. Many “Airports” simply do not exist (perhaps never did) or have been left to deteriorate so they are no longer landable. When planning a glider XC in the wilderness you simply can’t trust “official” information. Even Google Earth sometimes uses dated images. Cynicism is warranted.

        I use the term “known safe” landing areas which means a trusted glider pilot went to the strip, photographed it and judged it safe to land a glider. That’s why the ASC list and others like it are so valuable.

        I recall the GPS in my hand saying I should be standing on an airport but the surrounding terrain could never have been a runway. A local said, “Oh yes, it’s over there” pointing off into the distance and indeed it was – 10 miles from where the Sectional Chart said it should be.

        • June 24, 2013 at 4:02 pm

          It’s true that some fields are pure fantasy. Just next door to Moriarty, a field called “New Mexico” is charted. I am almost certain it never actually existed. On the gripping hand, we have lots of unmarked airstrips in the area. I used to mark them on my sectionals whenever I flew over. These days I add them to shortfield.com, as a help to others. I do agree, however, that many are very hard to see.

  5. Ken Stephens
    June 22, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Frank that is a terrific post-crash analysis,

    and I’ve read more than a few.

    One question I have; you had made the best of your situation and you had found lift that may well have put you out of danger. Could you say a little about how the last 60-90 seconds of the flight went and what lessons you take from that part of the flight?

    Thanks,

    Ken

    • June 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Ken,

      I’m not sure I would take any lessons from the last 30-60 seconds of the flight. At that point all the options I had were bad. I didn’t think I could get back upwind to the road, I was over heavily treed mountainous terrain, and although I thought I could continue downwind (north) and get out of the treed area, I was too far away to make any judgement about landability. I had no reason to believe that it would be any more landable than I had been seeing for the last hour. I was over high ground and on the windward side of a mountain slope with what I thought was 17-20kt of wind at a decent angle to the ridge, so I figured I had a better chance with it than anything else. In fact, during that last 30-60 seconds I was optimistic that I would be able to park on the ridge for a few minutes at least, and either climb away in a nice ridge-induced thermal or figure out something else.

      • Noel
        June 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

        Frank – Thanks for your write-up. I think what Ken is curious about (and I am, too; given the lack of details about the last minute of the flight) is whether you think a horizontal gust pushed you back into the mountain OR whether some kind of thermal/updraft rolled you into the mountain. This is not to be accusatory, and as you mentioned there were many links in the accident chain. But I think some of us are wondering about the final link in that chain and how we would have approached the ridge ourselves – any additional insight you can provide would be helpful.

        • June 25, 2013 at 5:40 pm

          Noel,

          I’m not sure I can add too much. There was tremendous lift just as I approached the north end of the ridge which is why I initiated the turn in the first place. However, as I completed the 180 and started back down the ridge, not only was there not the anticipated lift, I got the distinct impression (for all of about 2 seconds) that I was being pushed right into the mountain. I wasn’t stalled (or at least I don’t think I was), but I had basically no control authority – I was a passenger but I didn’t know why.

          I want to emphasize here that I really don’t have a frigging clue what happened, and I don’t think I ever will. The best guess I have is that the tremendous lift I felt wasn’t lift at all, but rather a major gust or rotor going through, which was followed by either a rotor effect or an equally major downdraft – maybe some interaction with upwind terrain features.

          Everyone, including me, wants to find that point where they can say – “I understand how that guy screwed up, and I would never do that myself, so I’m OK”. I’m just not sure that is going to happen in my case. I think the thing to take away from this whole analysis is “don’t let yourself get pushed into a corner like I did” If I had prepared better for an unfamiliar soaring site, I might well have known well in advance that the Lincoln Station airport didn’t exist, and therefore would never have been in that situation in the first place.

          Frank

      • Jonathan
        February 15, 2015 at 4:58 pm

        Thanks for your article. I have never flown NM, but I do have over four thousand hours flying gliders and helicopters in the Sierras, Whites, Sawtoothes and Inyos. When doing a circle next to the mountain, I continue to clear my turn. Every action must be mindful, every turn must be mindful. I crane my head in the direction of the turn to make sure my turn will clear the mountain, each and every turn. I do know a moment of inattention can result in disaster. I hope you have gotten some more mountain flying instruction and experience. First time I flew at Hobbs, I was nervous as, when I got low there was not a mountain to tuck in next to in order to get orthogonal lift. It is all a matter of what we are used to. Not so sure the accident was a result to not knowing the landable sites, but mountain flying. Thanks for the article and fly safe!

  6. June 22, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks Frank for a great write up. And thanks for being Contest Director and weatherman at the Region 6 South contest. I enjoyed it. Hope to see you out at the field soon.

  7. Michael Abell
    June 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Thanks Frank for promoting openness as one of the best methods for learning in this art. I am happy you survived, and thanks for speaking the truth.

  8. Paul Kram
    June 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    The SSA Sailplane Tracker is very nice for what it is, but visiting it just now for the first time, I can see Frank’s point about it not being right for an emergency situation. Even if it did work with Internet Explorer, there is too much “intuitive” poking and prodding expected of a first time first-responder in a high stress emergency situation.

    The current interface can stay like it is and/or continue to evolve (it’s okay to have multiple ways to get vital information), but I would like to see something like a simple “Type Glider ID to get GPS Coordinates” box on the SSA home page. Keep it as simple as possible if you want it to work in a high-stress and urgent situation. Even a simple idea like this needs to be thought through and tested by representative end-users in realistic scenarios. BTW Thank you Frank for testing and raising awareness of the current shortcomings!

    Frank did an excellent job of expediting his own rescue, but assuming that he had lost consciousness (or his equipment had otherwise all failed at impact), how long would it have taken to notice and confirm that his glider had crashed?

  9. Scott Westfall
    June 24, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Frank,
    Thank you for the taking the time and effort to write up your excellent summary. I am sure others will benefit from it. Congratulations on being able to walk away from the accident!
    What happened to the glider? Did you leave it on the mountain?
    Scott

    • June 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      Scott,

      I left the glider on the mountain, and the pieces were extracted a week or so later by helicopter. The remains wound up in Phoenix Arizona at the recovery company’s boneyard.

      Frank

  10. June 24, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Great write-up Frank. Like your other followers, I am glad you did not get seriously hurt.

    As to researching a new soaring area, I know from our conversations in the past, that you probably do more than most to cover the subject. As you acknowledge, it was not enough in this case. Not being clairvoyant is a failing most of us have. It would be helpful if the locals hosting such a contest would proffer the information that Bill Daniels suggested was readily available.
    The write-up for Lincoln station implies that it is usable:

    “The Old dirt strip. Locate easily from the air by first spotting the white tanks just south of the strip. Land uphill to the west. Power lines appear to run across runway but are actually buried under the runway. Runway is starting to look a little rough with areas of small plants and some rocks as of winter 2004.”

    It is tough to think of all the possible things that can go wrong but you have done a lot to give the soaring community ideas of what should be covered in the safety briefings for future races and other soaring sites.
    Now find a new TA and lets go flying.

    BZ

    • June 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      John,

      The tanks were easy to spot, but there was no recognizable east-west strip to the north. I saw something that might once have been a strip, but it was completely covered in sagebrush and what appeared to me to be small scrub trees. It might have been a bit flatter than the surrounding terrain, but a landing there could not have been accomplished without significant damage. The date on the description was ‘winter 2004’ – i.e. almost a decade out of date.

      Another poster mentioned that they got low over Lincoln Station a few years ago, and would never have located the “strip” except for the fact that they had actually walked the strip recently. Fortunately for him, he got away and didn’t have to try his luck with a landing attempt.

      Frank

  11. June 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Right you are about the dated information. I saw that too; but it goes to the point that all the research available would not have helped you to avoid this event. If we decided to never fly where there were NO verified landable field, I suspect that we would not attempt many tasks.

  12. Lane Bush
    June 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    The South Georgia crowd is glad to hear you are OK.

    I will try to get this information out to the members better but here is a first stab. Frank is certainly correct that the Contest Director, contestants and family members need to know how to find their loved one in the event of a “no return”.

    I recommend that everyone make sure their wives and friends “bookmark” the URL for their particular device. SPOT has a pretty good page and is the one that Frank uses in the pictures above.

    We should also be familiar with how to navigate to the URL from the SSA web. Please hover over “member resources” and the drop down menu will display “Sailplane Locator”. Enter the competition number or last name for the pilot in question. The pilot’s tracker URL will be displayed as a link. Alternatively you could go to our Sailplane Tracker and hover over the pilot’s marker. The coordinates will be displayed in a yellow info box at the top of the page.

    I regret that the information was not readily available to the rescue services and with Frank’s experience hopefully the system and directions will be made clearer in the future. Hopefully all of the Contest Directors and Retrieve Desks will have the system readily available should such an occurrence happen again. Thank goodness for SPOT and InReach. No doubt Frank would have spend the night on the mountain without a locator.

    Hope to see you in Perry next year Frank.

  13. Erik Mann
    June 25, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Hi Frank,

    Great writeups and lots of good lessons learned. I opted for a small, hand-cranked flashlight and cell phone charger for my emergency kit. Since there are no batteries, it takes that issue out of the equation. To be fair, the cranking required to get any reasonable charge on your cell phone is significant, so your idea of the battery top up is preferable. But, if it all goes pear-shaped and you have to hike out, this gives you one more option for keeping that last line of communications open.

    http://www.amazon.com/American-Cross-Eton-Flashlight-Carabiner/dp/B003BYROUQ/

  14. June 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Frank, I appreciate your humility and candor in sharing this for the benefit of others.

    The accessories to take advantage of aircraft power are good, but rechargeable flashlights are generally not a good emergency plan. They can lose significant capacity if left charging contiunously, and if they’re not, they may not be charged when you need them. The little LED flashlights use AAA alkalines, which can sit in your pack forgotten for years and still work for hours when needed. Just change them every Presidential election and you’re set.

  15. Bob Whelan
    June 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Frank – Thank you for the effort (physical and emotional) in writing of and your assessment of your crash. Given that it happened, you’re a lucky man indeed, to have gotten off as physically lightly as you did. For what it’s worth, and writing as one who’s camp-soared XC from Moriarty half a dozen years or so, I agree with your assessments of your situation, so at least your hindsight is accurate. (Not everyone’s is! :-) ) Writing from experience, I’m pretty much convinced it’s impossible to die from embarrassment, even though it hasn’t always felt that way! The raw emotions will fade over time, though the lessons learned will not. Hang tough!

  16. January 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Great read. A couple of comments.
    – I have an “out west” landout kit that contains some items you should consider. See http://aviation.derosaweb.net/survival/ and Soaring magazine, May 2010, page 21. Three things that I see missing above were a compass (very important for mountainous hiking), matches and a “space” blanket (or so very thin and warm). Hey, I was a boy scout!
    – The SPOT comes in handy. I use a PLB from ACR. Operates on 406mhz and transmits GPS coordinates via satellite. Zero monthly cost but doesn’t
    – The second cell phone is a good idea. I also have the ability to hook a charger to my ship battery.

    Thanks for the article.

    – John “67R”

  17. Tony Noble
    June 5, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Frank, your article is so popular that Google is rating it accordingly and I expect it will continue to be well read by glider pilots long into the future. I note the comment about the Why? of the last minutes of the crash and your reply about possible rotor. Our Club flies frequently along a mountain ridge and every few years an accident occurs that cannot be explained by a stall spin or collision caused by turning too close to the hill, or turning too close and having to escape into the Lee sink at the back of the ridge. You were doing a conservative figure eight, turning away from the hill and reported losing lift and control authority which caused you to be blown into the trees by 17-20 knots of wind directly on to the ridge. And old and wise pilot friend has warned me about thermals forming off a ridge, creating strong sink where reason dictates there will be strong lift. But he has also pointed out to me that every cross country flight involves calculation and management of risk, the more often you fly, the greater your confidence and the higher your ‘risk acceptance threshold’. Add to that the statistical likelihood of accident that increases with every flight and you have that confounding theory that the highest likelihood of accident is at two points in the spectrum: low currency and low hours; and high currency and high hours. Thanks for your accident report and I hope younarenstill out there enjoying your flying….and the adrenalin rush that comes from managing risk. Mountain soaring is an adventure sport…Just like mountain climbing. It’s not safe…and that’s the point :) Regards, T.

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