27th Nov 2020
It was a lovely, sunny day; great conditions for paragliding, with light thermals building. I’ve been doing paragliding for 24 years. It’s the simplest form of aviation that exists; you fly using a fabric wing, which keeps its form by the air pressure going into it. I think everyone wants to fly, there’s still a bit of the ancestral bird in us.
On this particular day I was setting off from Bo Peep Hill, on the South Downs in East Sussex, around 11am.
We were facing north east, into a north easterly breeze. The hill is about 600ft, which slopes quite steeply into the fields below. There was about 30 of us due to fly, which is quite a lot of paragliders, meaning you’re restricted as to what you can do.
I flew away from the hill, and thought ‘I need to do a nice tight circle here, to stay in this lifting air, and then get up above everybody else.’ I started my circle, checking there weren’t any other pilots around me. I started my circle and when I’d just done under about half, I realized I’d got it wrong and that I was in danger of going back into the hill with some force. I tried to tighten my turn, which actually makes the glider dive downwards. And so I hit the hill, quite hard. I was going at just over 30km an hour, descending at 6m per second. I landed flat on my back with an incredibly loud noise.
I was told I bounced. I was dazed but fully conscious, and could feel immediate pain in my upper spine. My arms, hands and legs were numb too. I was very conscious of the possibility that I’d done maybe serious spinal damage and that in those circumstances you don’t want to move. My son was there, so it was quite an alarming moment for him.
Very quickly people were around me, making sure my glider didn’t reinflate and pull me across the hill. We have a lot of first aiders as part of the club that I was flying with, who were quickly on hand to see if any immediate intervention was needed.
The emergency services were called. They used the what3words app to pinpoint our location. An ambulance was dispatched, which arrived around the same time as the helicopter from KSS did.
The KSS medical team worked with the crew from the South East Coast Ambulance Service, to assess me from head to toe; they were very supportive and at all stages explained what was going to happen next. The team had to free me from my paragliding equipment and secure me to a stretcher; they were very methodical in their approach as they were concerned about potential spinal injuries.
I was taken to the Royal County Sussex Hospital where the professionalism and care from the crews on scene was matched by that of the hospital staff, who checked me over and took me for an urgent CT scan. Fortunately everything was fine, the numbness in my limbs began to subside and all that remained was a pain in my neck, which was in essence a soft tissue injury and thankfully nothing more serious.
On reflection, I know I really got away with it. A crash like mine could’ve been life changing. I’m so grateful for the resources, the care and the professionalism from all of the people involved. As it turned out I didn’t have any serious injuries, but the care that was taken by everyone who was there was incredible, and I feel so grateful for that.
In moments of intense pain or worry, having a calm, comforting, professional attendance around you, is of great benefit.
Air ambulance charities like KSS are such valuable assets for our communities. If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in circumstances where you need them, their help is vital. Just imagine if you were lying in a field, or someone you love was lying in a field, and needed quick, medical attention by really, really professional people. This service must be supported and donating to the charity is the best way of ensuring that life-saving service can be provided. I made a donation after my incident, and our paragliding club makes an annual donation as well.
Since the incident I’ve had a good think about paragliding, with my family too. I’ve thought about what happened, and what I need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s been a good opportunity to think about the implications and what I need to do to make sure I work hard, continue to get it right, rather than get lax and do something wrong, which is what I did in June.
I’ve been back in the air since, and have been very cautious. I’m pleased to say though that I have the same passion for this sport, tempered by taking a bit more time to make key decisions.