Rafal Luckos was a Polish paragliding champion and first class XC pilot
The Paragliding World Cup was hit by tragedy on Friday when Rafal Luckos, a longstanding competitor from Poland, was killed during a training flight in Valle de Bravo, Mexico. He was 39.
Rafal’s death was greeted with shock and sadness by pilots at the competition in Mexico and throughout the paragliding world. A well-known figure on the international competition circuit Rafal had been flying competitions for over a decade and was ranked 71st in the World Pilot Ranking System at the time of his death.
Polish Champion twice, in 2009 and 2011, he also held the distance record for a Polish national at 367.31km, set in Quixada, Brazil in November 2011. He was also a European Paragliding Championships medallist, winning bronze at the Europeans in 2010.
Witnesses to the accident, which happened on a free-flying day in the run-up to the competition, reported that Rafal took a collapse which developed into a cascade and then auto-rotation. They said he attempted to throw his reserve but it did not deploy. Rafal hit the ground and died of his injuries.
The week-long World Cup was due to start on Sunday, with a practise task on Saturday 1 February. Pilots free flying on the Friday had set themselves an unofficial task, which saw several pilots flying the same route.
Several witnesses saw the accident and GIN Team pilot Michael Sigel spiralled down and landed nearby to help, but without success.
Rafal started flying in 1996 and soon discovered the competition scene.
A pilot on the World Cup circuit since 2004 his first official competition results came in 2001 when he came eighth in the Polish Monte Grappa Paragliding Cup in 2001.
Two years later he stepped up his involvement in competitions and flew eight comps during 2003, including the Australian, Russian, Italian, Dutch and British Opens.
In 2004 he entered his first World Cups, placing 78th and 84th in the Austrian and French events. That year he scored his first international podium place, coming third in the British Open in Castejon, Spain.
His first full World Cup season was in 2005, with his highest scoring finish in 28th place overall in Serra da Estrala in Portugal.
In 2006 he took part in his first FAI Cat 1 competition when he flew in the ninth European Paragliding Championships in France.
In 2007 he was there in Manilla when Ewa Wisnierska was famously sucked up to 10,000m in a storm cloud and survived. Chinese pilot He Zhonpin, 42, died in the same storm. The week after the big storm Rafal also flew in the Paragliding World Championships in Australia where he finished 122nd.
In 2008 he again made the podium at the Polish Open, coming third. A year later he was second in the Polish Open held in Slovenia.
Rafal Luckos interviewed at the Jelkin Hram Open in 2011
In 2010 he placed third and won a bronze medal at the European Paragliding Championships in Abtenau, Austria. A year after that he won the Polish Open in 2011.
A strong XC pilot Rafal won the Polish XC League in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
On the World Cup circuit in recent years he placed 16th overall at the Superfinal in 2010, held in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, and achieved his best ever overall World Cup result with a fourth place at the World Cup in Turkey in 2013.
A fan of UP wings early in his comp career he briefly flew GIN and Aircross gliders before flying an Ozone R11 in 2011, switching later to an Ozone Enzo. He flew his Enzo for two years before upgrading to an Enzo 2 for the PWC in Valle de Bravo this week.
The Ozone Enzo 2 was at the centre of a political storm at the Paragliding World Cup Superfinal in Brazil in January when it was revealed that the glider had been manufactured with a longer-than-certified trailing edge.
That finding led to a political row involving manufacturers, Superfinal organisers and the testing house Air Turquoise. That controversy plus Rafal’s death saw the Ozone Enzo 2 banned at the competition in Valle de Bravo and the offer of a full refund by Ozone to pilots who have bought Enzo 2s.
Rafal did not fly in the Superfinal in Governador Valadares, where the issue of the uncertified Enzo 2s was first revealed.
A keen sportsman in other areas too Rafal had recently started to fly sailplanes and compete in triathlons.
A graduate of the Silesian School of Economics in Katowice, Poland, and with an MBA from the Maastricht School of Management, in his professional life he was a businessman specialising in property management and outdoor advertising.
He co-founded the Beskidzki Paragliding Association and the Polish Paragliding League, where he served as a board member from 2007-2010.
Rafal’s Polish team mate and friend Klaudia Bulgakow, Women’s Paragliding World Champion, led the tributes to Rafal online.
Posting on her Facebook page Klaudia wrote: “I have no words just big sadness. I can’t and don’t want to believe this. I will keep moments like this forever in my heart. R.I.P. Rafa.
“Condolences to his wonderful girlfriend, family and friends.”
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