The Swiss Hang and Paragliding Federation is to investigate the circumstances around the commercial tandem hang-gliding flight in Interlaken that saw US tourist Chris Gursky hanging on for his life.
The “Swiss Mishap” video, which shows Gursky hanging on to the base bar of the hang glider when he was not clipped-in properly, has become an international sensation.
Published on YouTube yesterday by Gursky, the clip was picked up by media around the world and clocked up more than a million views in its first 24 hours online. It is well on its way to becoming the most watched hang gliding video on YouTube ever.
The story has also been featured on news websites and TV channels around the world. The video shows Gursky and his professional pilot take off normally before realising Gursky is not clipped in. Gursky then hangs by his arms as the pilot steers the glider at speed to an emergency landing in the field in the valley below.
The identity of the pilot has not been publicly revealed, although it is thought he is an independent operator in Interlaken, not a pilot from one of the larger companies.
In a direct-message interview with Cross Country yesterday, the passenger Chris Gursky said: “I really don’t want this to be a negative thing for the pilot, I am past that phase. He did all he could and more. He is a good guy.”
He continued: “As long as everybody understands that I posted this to show my experience and not to point blame or harm to anyone. Especially the pilot. He stayed with [me] at the hospital and returned the following day. He is a good hearted man.”
He added: “If and when I hang glide again I would have no problem flying with him.”
Not everyone however has been so forgiving, with many online calling for the pilot to have his commercial tandem licence revoked.
Not clipping-in a tandem passenger is an extremely rare occurrence in hang gliding, but it has happened. In cases where the passenger has been injured or killed, pilots have been prosecuted and jailed.
Beni Stocker, Training and Safety Office for the Swiss Hang and Paragliding Federation (SHV) in Zurich said the incident was clearly serious and they would investigate it.
He said that the pilot had not filed an incident report at the time. “We got to know [about it] yesterday evening, as the pilot didn’t file an EHPU incident report.”
When commercial and recreational hang glider and paraglider pilots in Europe experience a “flight incident”, for example a crash or emergency, they are encouraged to file incident reports to a European-wide database.
In some countries it is a legal duty to file them. They can be filed online using an online form and the intention is to increase safety throughout the sport by sharing information without judgement.
Stocker said there would “surely” be an inquiry into the incident in Interlaken and that the SHV would want to talk to the pilot involved. The SHV’s “main target” would be to find out how basic tandem hang gliding procedures had failed, and what lessons could be learned for the future.
He said: “In principle hang gliding isn’t a dangerous sport. Every year there are thousands of commercial tandem flights in Interlaken, without the slightest incident.”
However, he added, “On the video a mistake is clearly visible. This should never have happened.
“The preflight check is an elementary and important routine of every flight, and is part of [basic] training. It’s really tragic that in this case it obviously wasn’t done properly.”
Stocker praised the pilot’s actions after take-off. “The pilot’s reaction after the take-off was very good. Without any jerky movement – which would have ended fatally – he steered the glider as smoothly and quickly as possible towards the landing.”
He added: “Because it is a serious incident we will continue the investigation.”
Interlaken, where the “Swiss Mishap” occurred, is a popular site for commercial tandem flights. It sees an estimated 40,000 paragliding and hang gliding tandem flights a year.