Friday, February 6, 2009

Last task and a surprise ending

The last day of the competition and it was pretty eventful.

Weather was rather high pressury, not ideal for nice flying, and the task committee set us a “short” 87 km or so task: launch and then start at Diente (at the end of Espina), then over the Mesa to Elefante, Monarcas, back to Serro Gordo, tag Le Pena in Valle, and then goal around Torre.

I was feeling better so launched first again, last time I need to fly for 1.5 hours before the race even starts! The air was very punchy and turbulent, and Crazy was not fun, so I opted to stay at the Wall to get high and then cross Crazy as high and fast as possible to avoid that area, and hang out at Espina.

There were no clouds over the start so pilots were milling around around 4 km from the start, at the end of Espina. We weren’t able to get much than 3100m, which is considerably lower than previous days. As the start approached a group headed out to the 2 km point in order to be there first, but it looked like no lift out there and they slowly sunk down, at which point about ½ of them came back to top-up while the rest hung out in 0’s.

Tagged the start and then saw a pilot coming down under reserve right at the entry point. I didn’t see why he chucked but it was an orange and black Niviuk, so I initially thought it was Jim Orava. But nope it was somebody else, and he landed safely in a field in between Diente and Espina, right next to the road and an easy retrieval.

Back on the Wall it was chaos as pilots were trying to top-up for the jump to San Augustine, and there was a mid-air. A pilot wrapped his glider around the legs of another pilot, but they were both able to separate, and the lower glider started to spin his way down through the gaggle with the glider almost torn in 2. I watched him spin his way down for probably 1000’, until he finally tossed his reserve and landed in the trees on the Mesa behind Penon. I reported this to the organization but by the time I flew over to give co-ordinates, another glider was circling and doing so already, so I continued on to San Augustine.

Not much lift at SA, and a couple of gliders and myself drifted our way towards Saucos. I flew over the ridge between Jovan’s and the Quintanilla LZ since this place has produced pretty reliably in the past, and I was not disappointed. Climbed out of there and making my way towards Elefante when I hit extreme sink, and pilots were falling out of the sky all around me.

Maybe 10 of us hung in there at the foot of the larger hills, trying to thermal out of there and to the larger hills. It was quite rough and windy from the Lake, and little bubbles would come through that you’d be tempted to turn in, but you’d be too close to the trees for a full turn and have to S-turn instead. I was unable to stay with anything solid, and ended up getting too low, so landed in a nice field with some Quonset huts. Tracklog is here.

As I was packing up I watched many other pilots dirting all around me, but was unaware that anything unusual was going on until the rescue helicopter flew overhead and landed about 2 fields over. It was a Japanese pilot who had a massive collapse on his final approach, and wasn’t able to fix it before impacting the ground, in a small patch of grass, surrounded by barb-wire fences, houses, and powerlines. Indeterminate back injuries and a broken arm and he was being loaded into the helicopter as I got there.

There were still pilots in the air in the general vicinity, and as the helicopter was going to be flying in the same area as soon as he took off, the call came over the radio that the task was stopped, and for all pilots to land ASAP. A second helicopter was also dispatched around this time for another pilot who had crashed someplace on the Mesa, so with the 2 helicopters in the area it was even more urgent for pilots to get out of the sky and give the helicopters space.

At this point Jim Orava was on final, landing as per instructions, when he had a massive donut and decided to toss at 600’. The field he was about to land in already had pilots in it, so many witnesses as he came down among them “Hey guys I’m coming down to join you”, and barely missed landing on a giant cactus. Jim, glider, and reserve all OK. He had loaned his larger reserve to Joanna a couple of days before, was flying with his backup teeny hiking reserve, and came down rather fast with the extra weight of a comp glider and harness!

Back in town we heard that the task had actually been cancelled, so no need to upload GPS’s. Nobody was anywhere near goal when the call came out so there wasn’t the added complication of pilots in goal as the task stop came along, so a cancellation was still legal.

The air was a bit more turbulent than previous days, but not massively, so I think it was combination of tricky flying conditions, fatigue, and the fact this was the last day of the competition that resulted in so many accidents and incident: 3 reserve tosses, 1 mid-air, and 2 heli-evacuations. For many pilots this was the “make or break” day, so I think there was a bit more aggression than usual in the gaggles. Me, I’m glad I managed to stay safe during the competition, and feel a certain sense of relief that tomorrow I don’t have to be told to “launch now”, “fly over there”, “land here”, etc. The field I landed in was nice moss, so I was able to pack up the glider nicely for the airplane ride on Sunday, and I don’t plan on taking it out again between now and then!

2 comments:

  1. Nicole, Thanks so much for taking the time to blog. Love your writing style. Glad you made it through two brutal weeks unscathed.

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  2. Thanks for keeping up your very enjoyable blog through an exhausting two weeks. You have a great approach to competition and a very responsible approach to safety!

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