Can you fall out of a paramotor? It’s not something we ever expect to happen, but it has happened to many paramotor and paragliding pilots, and it nearly happened to me when I was fairly new to the sport. Paramotoring is a constant learning process, and as a paramotor pilot, you should always study and learn from the mistakes of others to help keep yourself safe in the air. I’m always keen to share my errors with you guys, and today we’ll look at a pretty serious one that I was lucky to survive.
How do pilots fall out of their paramotors?
When you learn to fly you’ll be taught to always do a 6 point harness and hang point check before launching your paramotor. This will include checking your helmet strap, the chest strap on the harness, both leg straps, and checking that both carabiners are closed and that the risers are properly connected.
Although not commonly reported in paramotoring, the paragliding community loses several pilots every year who fall to their death after launching without properly clipping in. This means that they’ve launched without doing their crucial 6 point check, and they’re often very experienced pilots, not beginners as you may think.
We’re led to believe that this is more of an issue with paragliders, but it’s really not! Paramotor pilots are just as likely to neglect this important check as paragliding pilots, the only reason we hear of this more frequently in the paragliding world is because it usually proves fatal for the pilot.
Think about it; paragliders always launch from hillsides of cliffs, immediately putting the pilot at altitude, often hundreds of feet up. Paramotors on the other hand will usually launch from flat fields, and immediately falling from the harness won’t usually be fatal. So although it’s happening, we just don’t hear about it as much.
When you hear my experience with this shortly, you’ll see why it could be just as dangerous, and even a fatal mistake for paramotorists.
The video below shows an example of a paragliding pilot who neglected the 6 point check. As mentioned by the uploader, this is a very experienced cross country pilot, proving that this isn’t just a beginner mistake, it can happen to anybody! Luckily he was stripped of the harness before leaving the ground.
Another example is an incident where a father and daughter took off for a tandem flight, only to discover that the father who was piloting the paraglider had neglected to strap his legs into the tandem harness. This led to him falling 1000 feet to his death, while the daughter remained strapped in and survived with minor injuries after she crashed into a tree.
My mistake, and why this could also be fatal for paramotorists
In the video above we saw how the pilot was immediately stripped of his harness before leaving the ground, this is the best possible outcome when a pilot neglects to properly clip into their harness. If the harness is a tighter fit, or if the front strap is a little tighter, the fall may be delayed long enough for the pilot to gain height.
I’d been paramotoring for around two years when my mistake happened, and I was heading off on a cross country flight with a friend who’d already taken off and was circling overhead waiting for me.
Although I hadn’t been flying long, I was becoming more relaxed about flying. Being relaxed is good in some ways, but it can cause you to become complacent. On top of being a little more complacent, I was also in a rush to get airborne because my friend was already up above and eager to get moving.
At this point I was flying a Parajet V2 that I’d bought from a much smaller pilot than myself, meaning the harness was a little tight. Because of this, when I clipped into the harness while sat on the ground I would always leave fastening the leg straps until I was standing up, it just made it much easier to get up.
I buckled up the the small chest strap and the main front strap, and checked my reserve chute that was mounted there. I stood up and rushed over to my wing to clip-in, the risers were securely clipped in and the carabiner gates were closed and double checked. There was very low wind, so I took my engine to full power, looked around and was ready to go. Forward launch, go go go!!!
Because of the tight harness I’d sometimes struggle to get myself into the seat, so hanging out of the harness until I was at a reasonable altitude to park the brakes and pull myself in was nothing unusual. But at about 50 feet I realised I was hanging a little lower than usual.
I kicked both legs and wriggled my body in an attempt to get into the seat, and at that point I felt myself slip down through the harness, I gripped the risers and the adrenaline started to pump. At that moment I realised my mistake, I hadn’t clipped my legs in, and I knew I was on the verge of completely falling out of the paramotor.
To give you an idea of how close I was to falling out of the paramotor, the swingarms were about level with my ears, normally they’d be a few inches below my armpits.
What saved me?
I was lucky in several ways:
- I have very long arms, and as I hold the brakes my elbows flare out to the sides. As I slipped down, this had allowed me to hook my elbows over the swingarms right behind the carabiners. The gap between both swingarms was fairly large, so I couldn’t get my arms right over them, and all of my weight was resting on my upper arms just below my biceps, so this was painful and very tiring to hold onto.
- As previously mentioned, the harness was a small size making it a pretty tight fit for me. This combined with the chest strap and front strap being clipped-up and properly adjusted had held me into the harness to a certain degree.
- Low hang points! If I was flying a high hang point paramotor I would have fallen straight out without a doubt. Being able to hold myself in with my elbows/upper arms by placing them over the swingarms prevented me slipping down through the harness and falling all of the way out.
- Staying calm. Although the adrenaline started pumping, I kept the throttle steady and maintained my altitude. I could see houses and roads beneath me and I knew coming down would not be ideal as I was unable to turn or flare due to being so low in the harness.
Trying to stay alive
I continued on the same heading completely helpless and not able to turn while gripping the risers. I still had both brakes in my hands and I was undoubtably pulling the trailing edge of the wing down excessively due to being so low in the harness. There was nothing I could do about this, but luckily at the time I was flying a very forgiving EN-B wing.
At this point my friend realised there was something wrong, and he was calling over the radio asking if I was OK. I was using a push-to-talk headset which meant I couldn’t respond, and he watched on as I struggled to hold myself into the harness.
There was only two options for me, the first was to stay hanging there and release the throttle in the hope that a suitable landing area would appear on my heading. I didn’t know how long I could hold on as my arms were already screaming out in pain, and a simple gust could cause enough turbulence to knock me out of the harness, so I needed to try getting myself up into the seat.
The second option was to use my elbows to pull myself up as high as possible while kicking both legs simultaneously in front of myself and just hope that I might be able to get into the seat. I was exhausted at this point from holding on, but I gave this a try.
I kicked and pulled for what seemed like forever, and the paramotor was viciously oscillating due to me pulling brakes and yanking on the risers, but eventually it worked, I was able to get myself into the seat!
How to avoid falling out of a paramotor
Avoiding this situation is really simple, and all you need to do is carry out the essential 6 point check before launching. This is usually taught to beginner pilots during training and it should be fresh in their minds, but even so, both new and experienced pilots continue to make this mistake.
The ones falling from their paramotors are:
- Complacent and relaxed pilots.
- Pilots in a hurry to launch.
- Inexperienced pilots.
- Self-trained pilots.
- Pilots who have failed a launch or missed a take-off for some reason, and have partially unclipped to lay their wing out.
- Tired or stressed pilots.
After my mistake I decided that I would no longer stand up before clipping in my leg straps. I began clipping all buckles up one after the other while still sitting down, and I check all buckles before standing up. After clipping into the wing I then check them all a second time while doing the important 6 point check.
What else can we do to prevent this?
If you’re worried you might forget to clip yourself in you have a few options.
- Write a check-list that you can review immediately before launching. Keep it in your harness pocket and go through it before every flight.
- Never unclip your one leg strap, simply slide your leg through the secured loop. This will be easy for paragliding pilots, but may prove difficult for paramotorists.
- Develop a pre-flight routine that you can stick to, it only takes a few moments to run these important checks.
- Paragliding pilots can use a variety of different harnesses like slip on harnesses without buckles. These are common in many hike & fly harnesses, where buckles have been removed to save weight.
If you’re new to the sport of paramotoring, remembering to clip up your leg straps may seem like a small detail, but it can have a significant impact on your safety as a paramotor pilot. Until you hear of stories like my own, or some of the examples you saw earlier, you may not realise how easily this seemingly small mistake could end in disaster.
Falling out of a paramotor is not normal, it’s a great example of pilot error, the biggest killer in aviation, and we all need to learn from this.
By making a 6 point check a part of your pre-flight routine and practicing the process, you can ensure that you are always properly secured in your harness and ready for a safe and enjoyable flight.