Two paraglider pilots died following a mid-air collision at Torrey Pines Gliderport in San Diego, California at the weekend.
Raul Gonzalez Valerio, 61, and Glenn Johnny Peter Bengtsson, 43, collided with each other in flight at about 2.45pm on Saturday 9 March, according to local police and press reports.
Both pilots were flying solo and were ridge soaring at the popular coastal site. One was flying north and the other flying south when they collided, witnesses said, according to the LA Times.
After colliding both pilots spiralled and hit the cliffs, before falling down towards the beach.
Witnesses called 911 immediately, and a San Diego Fire-Rescue Department helicopter was used to lower lifeguards directly onto the cliff face – a faster technique than using ropes, the lifeguard supervisor said.
Tragically, both pilots were pronounced dead at the scene and the bodies were recovered to the cliff-top.
Conditions at the time were “absolutely perfect” for soaring, with a reported wind speed of 10-12mph (17-20km/h).
Torrey Pines Gliderport is one of the oldest and most established soaring sites in the USA and sees thousands of incident-free flights a year. It has been involved with foot-launched soaring flight since the beginning of the sport and although it is popular and can get busy is strictly managed. Pilots must sign-in before they fly.
In a statement Torrey Pines Gliderport management said they were investigating the “tragic accident” and would share the conclusions of that investigation when complete.
The statement read: “We share our sorrow at the loss of two members of our close-knit soaring community.
“While each individual who engages in gliding of any kind understands the risks inherent in our sport, and though the Torrey Pines Gliderport is amongst the world’s safest soaring sites, it is with heavy hearts that we mourn yesterday’s loss.
“Currently, our investigative team (which combined has over a 100 years of experience in gliding sports), as well as our local authorities (including the San Diego Police, San Diego Fire Departments, and the Medical Examiner’s Office) are reviewing the available data in order to assess what went wrong and why.
“Once those investigations are complete, we will share our combined conclusions. Until then, we are unable to further comment on these on-going investigations.
“In the interim, we ask that all celebrate the lives of the two individuals lost in yesterday’s tragic accident and that you keep them, and their families, in your thoughts and prayers.”
We extend our condolences to the friends and families of the pilots involved, and the Torrey Pines flying community.
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