The Multiclass Hang-Gliding World Championships in Annecy, France ended in tragedy yesterday when a pilot flying an Atos VR died during a task.
Japanese pilot Mazakazu Koayashi, 44, was reported to be flying close to a cliff face in smooth conditions when the accident happened.
Organisers announced the death on the official website saying that flying conditions were “mild” and the reason for the accident is unknown. The full statement reads:
This July 3rd, Masakazu Kobayashi, a 44 years old Japanese pilot, passed away after hitting a cliff in the Lake Annecy area at Lachat de Thônes. The organisers express their sorrow to Masakazu’s family and friends, and to the Japanese pilots. A police investigation is being held and will find out the causes of the accident.
Yesterday, the flying conditions were mild and there were only a few gliders in the area. Some pilots saw Masakazu’s glider turn sharply toward the cliff for an unknown reason. The glider then spiralled down to the forest. Emergency aid was requested immediately and an equipped helicopter took off immediately.
Pilots and organisers alike are overwhelmed by sadness and grief. They gathered this morning of July 4th at the competition headquarter to evoke the memory of Masakazu Kobayashi. The Japanese team leader expressed his sadness and described Masaku as a family man, father of two girls, passionate about flying. He wished that, to honour Masakazu, pilots would fly today. Unfortunately, due to bad conditions, this was not possible. The Japanese team will attend the closing ceremony of the competition on July 5th.
The organisers are answering as far as they can to the needs and wishes of Masakazu’s family and team. Masakazu’s unfortunate accident concludes a competition otherwise seen by pilots and team leaders as safe and well organised.
Announcing the death on behalf of the organisers on the Annecy World Hang Gliding Championships Facebook page, Jean-Louis Debiée said:
“The organisation of the World Hang Gliding Championships are sad to announce the death of Japanese pilot Masakazu Kobayashi. It seems like Masakazu Kobayashi hit a cliff. The organisers present their deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”
Tributes were paid to Masakazu, with many expressing disbelief at the news. Kitano Masahiro wrote: “I can not believe the news. He is the most safety-minded pilot and the last man to take a risk of flying too close to a cliff.”
And Luke Nicol wrote: “The Japanese team are the friendliest and warmest group of people I know. I’m really sorry to hear this.”
Hang glider pilot Richard Sheppard, who is at the competition reporting for Cross Country, said: “A pilot ahead of him heard it and looked back to see the glider flying away from the cliffs with the pilot in what looked like an unconscious state. The glider flew into the trees on the slope below.”
He added that Mazakazu is known to have taken a two day break during the competition for business purposes and had only just returned to the competition. His wife was travelling with him in Europe and is in Annecy.
The accident happened on the penultimate day of the competition. The last day was meant to be Friday 4 July but poor weather meant flying was not possible.
Masakazu was flying an Atos VR and competing in the Class 5 World Championships.
Other World Championships taking place were the Women’s Hang Gliding World Championships, the Class 2 (Swifts) and the first ever Sport Class World Championships.
The Championships are held together because of the low numbers of pilots in each class. There were 40 rigid wing pilots flying in the Class 5 competition, and only 10 in Class 2. In the Sport Class 31 pilots were competing, and in the Women’s Class there were 21 pilots.
The competition closing ceremony will take place on Saturday 5 July. The Japanese team have said they will attend.
A formal French police investigation is underway.
Cross Country extends its sincere condolences to family and friends of Mazakazu Koayashi.
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