‘Never again’ – Andy Pag on a bad season in Nepal

Monday 5 May, 2014
Andy Pag and passenger in Pokhara, Nepal. Photo: Andy Pag

Andy Pag and passenger in Pokhara, Nepal. Photo: Andy Pag


When Andy Pag met up with Cross Country in March he was still wearing his duvet jacket from Pokhara to ward off the chill of an early spring wind in England. The dust on it stood out against the clean blacks and greys of the city folk milling around.

Sitting down over hot coffee in the salubrious surroundings of a city bar Andy slumped into the leather sofas. “I sent you this and thought, ‘Well, if they don’t run it they don’t run it,” he said.

Six months earlier Andy had been excited, preparing for his second season working as a tandem pilot in Nepal. He’d been living in his van, catching the last of the European paragliding season, helping to write the Cross Country Travel Guide, before migrating east.

“I take it you’ll never go back?” Cross Country’s editor asked him, flipping open the laptop to go through Andy’s story with him.

“No,” was the blunt reply. “Friends told me to tell it how it is.”

The story Andy tells of the exhausting, tragic season he experienced in Nepal makes sobering reading. Too many friends had accidents, he said, people who were good pilots too. One dear friend didn’t return. And greed has taken over the tandem scene in Pokhara, he argues, a one-time paradise for pilots and tandem operators alike.

Threats of “bamboo massages”, mid-air collisions and over-crowded launches pepper his article. Well before he left Nepal he’d had enough.

He writes:

To call the Sarangkot take off ‘busy’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Low airtime pilots would watch in ashen-faced horror at the myriad of tandem wings simultaneously spreading, inflating, launching, tripping and collapsing their way into the air.

Around 200 tandems launch every day on a tight schedule, rarely swayed by conditions. Wings would take off above others sometimes knocking over bodies on the edge of launch like skittles. …

Turning in the tight house thermal, a few days later, a solo pilot flew into the side of my wing from behind. Their harness twisted around as their feet caught in the top of my brake lines. I watched, paralysed, flying a steady line waiting to see if my wing would collapse, spin or stall, and then just as quickly he untwisted, untangled and flew away. “Is that normal?” asked my passenger. “It is here,” I answered as I turned out to the landing, my hand trembling in the brake handle.

“That guy is always making problems,” said my colleague later, but we never worked out who it was and they never owned up. Without a culture of incident reporting, without compulsory briefings for newly arrived pilots, without enforcement of regulations for novice pilots, the Sarangkot house thermal is the most dangerous gaggle I’ve ever flown in.

The rest of the Andy’s article is in Cross Country 153.

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