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Video: Jaw-dropping tandem hang gliding ‘mishap’

Monday 26 November, 2018

A jaw-dropping video clip of a tourist tandem flight gone wrong in Switzerland has been posted to YouTube, revealing the terrifying ordeal of a pilot and passenger in Interlaken in October.

The passenger in the “Swiss Mishap” video that has gone viral in pilot circles is Florida-based Chris Gursky, an auto-parts manager and photographer.

On 26 November he posted the heart-stopping video of his vacation tandem hang glider flight in Interlaken, Switzerland, with the words: “My first time hang gliding turned into a near death experience as my safety harness was never hooked to the glider. For 2 minutes 14 seconds I had to hang on for my life! The landing was a rough one, but I lived to tell the story.”

Although a “good sport” about the incident, all pilots know how close he was to having a serious accident or worse. Not clipping-in is the worst thing you can do on a hang glider or paraglider, and has led to numerous fatal accidents. A professional tandem pilot not clipping in his or her passenger is almost unheard of, but has happened before, almost always with fatal results.

In 2014 a Canadian tandem hang glider pilot was jailed after his passenger fell 300m to her death on a tourist flight. On landing the pilot had swallowed his camera’s data card in an impulsive bid to conceal evidence.

Before posting the video footage of the incident, Gursky, who suffered a broken wrist during the emergency landing, posted the story of what happened on his Facebook page on 23 October.

He wrote:

“So… Here is the story behind the photo. Vacation in Switzerland started with hang gliding. Something we both wanted to do…this was a tandem flight each with their own pilot.

“Cut to the mountain… the pilots had us step into our harnesses followed by sticking our arms and head through and getting them adjusted. Then we practiced our take off run, which was 6 to 8 steps. Pretty much run till your feet leave the ground. 

“Gail and her pilot took off first….looked cool as hell. Then my pilot and I lined up for take-off. We waited a bit for the updraft to pick up and then we ran till we left the side of the 4,000 ft mountain edge. I was expecting to level out above the pilot as we went, but quickly discovered that my harness was not attached to the hang glider or anything else….

“My body weight shifted straight down and I found myself hanging on for my life. I remember looking down and thinking, this is it. I was losing grip with my right hand, that was holding onto a strap on the pilot’s right shoulder. He was trying to make a bee line to the landing field as he knew what the situation could bring.

“My left hand was on the cross bar that was ultimately the landing gear, with a wheel on each side. As we were going down for a hot landing I was slowly losing my grip with my right hand as I was swinging in the wind with the glider.

“The pilot grabbed my hand, but like in the movies it was a slow motion slipping of the grip until my right hand slipped off and I grabbed another strap on his left side for a bit but this slipped off also.

“I ended up holding on bar with the left hand and the lower part of his leg with the right when we were nearing the ground. I looked down to see my feet hit first, which ripped me off at about 45 mph as it was a hot landing and I was under the landing gear.

“I would guesstimate the total flight time was about 5 minutes. When I sat up I knew something was wrong and saw that my wrist was broken.

“The pilot rushed over, helped me up and walked me off of the gun range (true). Then I had to climb under two electric fences to get to a road, where they had someone picking us up to go to the ER. 

“11:30 pm surgery ended at 3:30 am. Left the hospital by 2:00 that afternoon. No cast, but a wrap and a brace for 6 weeks.

“Glad I am still here to tell the story. Gail’s flight was awesome and she will share the pics when she is ready.

“Still can’t cross hang gliding off the bucket list till I finish a successful flight! ……maybe Norway…?”

The tandem pilot in the clip is unidentified, and Gursky bears him no ill-will. “I am past that phase,” he said in a direct message to Cross Country Magazine. “He did all he could and more. He is a good guy.”

A representative of BumbleBee Hang Gliding, which offers tandem hang glider flights in Interlaken, said they had not been involved in this flight. They said the footage was “truly amazing” and added, “we of course are very happy about the end result for all those involved.”

BumbleBee Hang Gliding added: “The ability of this man to hold on like this is unreal. [There will be] many discussions of what would you would do – fly back into the forest, hill land etc. But this video clearly educates us [all].”

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