Morrone or Moron?

Did anyone else read the comments added to Duncan’s post from Morrone last week and the subsequent article in the adventure blog? Did you wonder if you were really on the same hill? Full of tales of broken lines and ground handling errors. Advice heard by no-one but the head-honcho himself. Unseen maps and weather info. Saving a pilot by talking him down on the radio. Tales of heroic flying in wind shear that no-one else could have possibly survived – and not so much as a bead of sweat crossed his furrowed brow. Mmmm me thinks a certain canoeist isn’t the only one with selective memory problems. Certainly does make for interesting reading though and, personally speaking, I can’t wait for the movie.

Maybe I have a poor-ground handling doppelganger that was out defying gravity on Sunday. With both my and Iain’s recollections of the main events of the day seemingly at odds from those of the ‘senior’ club member it would certainly appear so. Nothing new there then! Just for the record though – I didn’t actually break any lines due to bad ground-handling and certainly have no memory of being ‘advised’ not to set up there – unless of course you count ‘building a wall’ as ground-handling. In essence, while waiting to launch, the sheath on 3 lines was in fact damaged by a small sharp rock. End of story. It was an easy decision after that not to take off. So, it’s difficult to understand the motivation for the critical comments made in response to Duncan’s post. Butt covering perhaps?

Alas poor Iain however was not so lucky. He did indeed fall victim to a short scoot across the top of the hill. Granted, that part of the day is actually true. True, but not the full story. Unfortunately, because his ability sometimes takes a good kicking from his confidence, he does occasionally ask for a little assistance in high winds. Nothing wrong with that. Is there? Pity for him though that, this time, his ungainly assistant happened to trip when a large gust came through, which in turn caused him to land unceremoniously on his right buttock and be dragged 20 feet across the slope. Is that bad ground handling or just plain bad luck? However as we all know that was nothing new and nothing any of us haven’t been victim to, or seen happen to other guys both in the ESPC and other clubs. It really was nothing of consequence, considering that there are no sudden drops anywhere within 3 miles. Something we had checked ourselves before setting up – no advice needed, but thanks for offering.

Once he had picked himself up; dusted down his pride and dragged his hitherto unflappable self-esteem out from behind a rock, we talked briefly about a quick repack and fly down. But, being frequent flyers on the big tops, we had both been in situations like this before and knew from previous misadventures that it was time to call it a day. Adrenaline flunkies that we are, the decision was quickly made that the window of opportunity had long since gone and we jumped unceremoniously into the first truck back down. Yeah right! More accurately, discretion was putting up the fight of its life and kicked the shit out of valour, so in reality we just looked at each other and said what we should have said over an hour ago, ”feck this fer a game of soadyers. Let’s get out the £*&” of here before it really goes tits up! ‘Rather wisely as it turned out.

On a more serious note, what I do wonder is, why every single person who did launch on Sunday suffered at least 1 big collapse? Some reportedly took 3 or 4. So, I’m not too sure if it says as much about the skill of the pilots on the day; the inherent safety in modern wings, or if it was just plain good fortune that allowed survival in such adverse conditions. However, thankfully lady luck was smiling on them and everyone made it back safely and gratefully to mother earth. Allegedly Nairn’s first words on getting back to terra-firma were, ‘Does anyone want to buy a wing?’, ‘One careful owner, complete with harness, and pre-installed brown stain!’

On an even more serious note (For those that haven’t been paying attention, that’s two serious notes in one article. One more and it’s called a rant) there does seem to be a difference of opinions as to the cause of the problems. Call it what you will, rotor, wave, wind-shear, whatever. There were definite wave patterns over the cairngorms. I definitely saw 2 pilots being forced down in their initial attempts to get over the back. Yes, there was a lot less wind in the valley than higher up on the ridge. That tends to be a major feature of being in the lee-side of the hill. Personally, I reckon there were indications of all three. But, what do I know? Air-detectives make your own mind up.

Also, I wouldn’t imagine for a minute that ‘ he who wants to be obeyed’ would intentionally put anyone in harms way. However, the decision to allow a very low airtime pilot with less than a months experience to fly in such conditions of extreme wave and on the lee side of the hill in rapidly deteriorating conditions was, to say the least, questionable and it is hoped lessons will definitely be learned there. If that was not bad enough, to allow him to do so without a reserve 1500ft agl – especially considering he had as yet no knowledge of descent techniques such as ‘big-ears’ etc borders on incompetent. Apparently, at one point conditions were so strong that even with big-ears on the poor guy was still going up! Talk about throwing some one in at the deep end. Hope it hasn’t put him off flying? I can only imagine that allowing a pupil to launch in such unfavourable conditions was due to either a total miss-interpretation of or gross ignorance of air conditions. A worrying thought, either way you look at it.

When you consider that trying to teach a beginner how to do big-ears via the radio is hard enough but to do so in such extreme turbulence and rapidly failing daylight and then have them attempt steep 360 degree turns with big-ears pulled in to get down, it really does call into question ones sanity. What is even more staggering is, that having done so, to then claim credit for ‘saving the day’ If I’m teaching someone to swim and throw them into a raging torrent and have to jump in to save them – am I a hero for rescuing them or a villain for putting them in harms way? Perhaps both? I can’t say I have ever been a big fan of these sink or swim techniques and can only hope that lessons will be learned and that student’s safety will, in time, be put before ego.

Although, despite appearances to the contrary, we are NOT actually paid up card carrying members of the ESPC club, Iain and I have always been happy to meet up when invited and have had many a good day with some of the guys in the club. After this post, I doubt that it will be happening again any time in the near future. However, it is hoped for the sake of safety, especially the fee paying publics’, that lessons from the day will be taken on board. Murray is a good instructor when he sticks to what he knows. As I’ve always said, ‘if you want to develop your ground handling Murray’s yer man.’ For everything else you have to make your own mind up.

Just a suggestion, perhaps actual training activities should be kept to smaller hills where local knowledge is greater and the conditions more forgiving. At least until the CFI has a little more experience on the larger hills.

Right I’m of in search of some new lines so I’ll just leave you with the thought for today.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and can be a valuable learning tool when used constructively. And, for the more prosaic amongst us; when all around you seem to be flapping in the wind – Bugger of – sharpish!

See you on the dark-side.

Joe/Iain KMRT
(not affiliated to any paragliding clubs)

P.S I was going to include some photos of the day but everyone I looked at had Murray in them. How does he do that?

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