Classic Tales: Cloudsucked on a hang glider

Tuesday 14 January, 2003

Hang gliding cloud suck… In this unrelated video the pilot gets sucked into cloud for a few minutes’

Hang gliding on a sunny day, the climbs got better and better until suddenly, Ozzie Haines was in cloud. A classic tale of cloudsuck and getting away with it. Published in Cross Country magazine in 2003

There I was, at cloudbase, 3,500 ft over Bewl Reservoir in the south of England. Dave Matthews and I were cruising about, having been aerotowed up into gentle two-up thermals. It was a fairly dull and overcast day, and conditions were weak.

We’d been keeping as high as possible, trying to fly XC while skirting around Gatwick airport’s airspace. But the sky was shutting with some serious spreadout, and I soon resorted to drifting around in zeroes, slowly drifting north, knowing I’d be landing soon.

While thinking about ending up on the ground, Johnny Carr came over the radio saying he had a seven-up climb about four miles ahead of us. Dave and I looked across in Johnny’s direction and headed off his way.

Ten minutes later I hit a two-up climb which quickly turned into a seven-up and got me back up to cloudbase. At this stage the sky cleared a bit and I found myself under a beautiful cloud with another perfect cloud just a short glide away. I went for it and was rewarded with another seven-up climb.

Alarm bells should have started ringing: we’d been scraping about for two-ups and now I was storming up in an eight-up. But all I thought was ’”Brilliant climb, if it keeps going this way we’ll get all the way to Dover!’”

I took the climb all the way to base and carved on ahead. I glided on to the next cloud, which looked like the perfect cloud – you know, big, dark underside, all the signs. As I arrived I radioed back to say I’d hit another seven-up.

As I was circling, I noticed there were hardly any other clouds near me, so I decided to climb right up to the domed underside of the cloud, so I could gain as much height as possible before pulling full bar to race away for a long glide.

Then I suddenly got mugged by the cloud. It completely enveloped me with its white dense fog. I pulled on all the speed I could muster and got my knees out of the harness to create as much drag as possible. I let the VB off and pulled the bar to my knees.

After a minute going at full whack I was still doing a steady four-up and I’d totally lost directional stability. I was convinced I was going to loop, so I eased the bar out very, very gently until I was close to stall speed and felt a little more in control of the wing but sadly not my climb rate, which had once again climbed to a steady seven-up.

Still enveloped in cloud, I hadn’t a clue where I was going with no compass, no GPS, just a vario. I’d entered the cloud over Bewl Bridge reservoir so I wasn’t concerned about wandering lost out to sea. But I was very worried about the climb rate, which just continued to increase.

About 2,000 ft above base I spotted an opening below me. “I’ve found a hole” I cried and buried the bar, diving for the gap – but it closed before I got there, forcing me to slow down again.

Straight away my climb rate went back to seven-up. Around 6,500 ft my climb rate gradually started to decrease. By 8,500 ft, still in cloud, and with snow and ice covering my leading edges, uprights, wires and harness, the climb finally ceased.

As I started to pull on some bar I started to literally fall back down through the cloud. I hadn’t realised it at the time but the glider was now too heavy to climb due to the weight of all the ice. An hour after I’d entered the cloud I finally emerged, blinking in the sunlight over Bewl Reservoir, exactly where I disappeared in the first place.

I pulled on bar and raced away from the cloud when suddenly there was this loud “whooff, whooff” – whole chunks of ice were sliding off and breaking away from the wing.

I landed just south of Headcorn, so relieved, so happy to be down. It was a beautiful sunny day in May, FA Cup Final day actually.

When I looked behind me, three inches of snow were sitting in the bottom of my harness, reminding me of what had just occurred. Since then I have so much more respect for clouds.’

Updated January 2011

• Got news? Send it to us at news@xccontent.local. Fair use applies to this article: if you reproduce it online, please credit correctly and link to xcmag.com or the original article. No reproduction in print. Copyright remains with Cross Country magazine. Thanks

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