Emergency situations are the stuff of nightmares for pilots, and nobody wants to throw their reserve in anger. But if you have to, you have to. Acro star and regular Cross Country columnist Théo de Blic shares his top ten tips for ensuring it all goes smoothly.
1. Make sure that your rescue is repacked regularly, and that everything is fully functional. When I was a teenager I filmed for SIVs: many people couldn’t even throw their rescues because they had closed their rescue containers the wrong way. That is definitely something you want to find out when both your feet are safely on the ground and not at 200m in a strong autorotation. I even saw a guy with an allen key inside his pod [deployment bag], can you imagine that? Me neither!
2. Make finding the red handle as natural as snoozing your alarm clock in the morning. In an emergency situation seconds can separate life and death. So make sure you know where your handle is and that you can find it as fast as possible, even when extremely disoriented. You have to find a movement that will always bring you to this red handle, no matter what. For myself, I slide my hand from my knees to my butt; on the way I am always sure to find my harness and then know where this handle will be.
3. Practise throwing your reserve container. Indeed, it may come as a shock for some people but your deployment bag has to be thrown away, it is not something you keep to yourself. So practise the movement of throwing it as much as you can. It has to be strong enough to send your container as far away as possible. Practise it over and over so it becomes natural. And be aware of where your glider is; I have seen many pilots throwing their rescues straight into their collapsed gliders. That is not what you want to do: try to throw it in the opposite direction, that should do the trick.
4. Check your altitude. It is the most common advice, yet it is so important. How many times have I seen a pilot fighting until he hit the ground? Too many times. 99.9% of paragliding accidents happen when the pilot hits the ground. Nothing can hurt you in the air: your only enemy is the ground, so know where it is. If you are not sure of your altitude, throw your rescue. If you think you have some time, then try to sort it out, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the ground. The ground can get pretty close pretty fast, so always keep an eye on it.
5. Don’t doubt. If you have any doubt then throw your reserve. Better safe than sorry as it is said. If you are wondering whether to wait or not then don’t wait. If you are not sure it means there is a chance you are wrong, and trust me, it feels much better to be wrong under your rescue than to be wrong on your hospital bed.
6. Never ever think it is too late. It is never too late. If something happens to you and you are very low, throw your rescue anyway and right away. In most scenarios the rescue will open just in time. Even if it doesn’t it can always slow you down a little. I remember once when I was really low in a rescue situation, I looked down and thought, “I am too low, it won’t open” but at the same time I was also pulling my rescue just in case. It opened and I even had four seconds to spare before I hit the ground. So it is never too late. It is your life we are talking about so try everything you can to save it.
7. Put both your brake handles into one hand before reaching for your rescue handle. Most people forget to do this but I have seen plenty of people release their brake handles to reach for the rescue handle and their glider shooting, resulting in them falling into their canopy. You definitely don’t want that to happen. So put both handles in one hand and grab your rescue handle. Obviously all of this has to be done as fast as possible.
8. Don’t forget that you still have a paraglider out there. Indeed once you have thrown your rescue your job is not done yet. Paragliders and rescues have a really bad tendency to go into a ‘mirror’ or down-plane effect, and it increases your sink rate pretty badly. Once you have thrown your rescue put all your strength into bringing your glider back to you. Most of the time your Brakes, D, C and stabilo lines are the easiest. Try to avoid A and B lines as they are usually the ones with the most pressure. I always know the colour scheme of my lines by heart, so I know that purple are the brakes, yellow the Ds and so on; it makes it easier to find the right ones in all the mess that’s going on after my rescue opens.
9. Get ready to hit the ground quite hard. Rescues are made to save your life, not your bones, so sometimes you can come down to the ground with quite some speed. When you are about to land with a rescue always stand up in your harness and try to land on your feet, legs together and roll over. Don’t put too much trust into your airbag or your bumpair. You won’t land like a ballerina but at least you should walk away.
10. Don’t forget to call your friends to tell them you are okay. Call the emergency services to tell them you are okay as well. Most times someone will see you fall and call the emergencies straight away. So call them and tell them you are OK. It will save your insurance some money, because sending a helicopter to you for no reason can be quite expensive. It will also keep them fully available if someone really does need their help
Théo de Blic has been flying paragliders solo since he was 12. A member of the French Acro Team he has won synchro gold in the FAI World Air Games, synchro silver at the Acro World Championships and is a regular on podiums at the Acro World Cup. He lives in Chambéry, France. This article was first published in Cross Country 181 (July 2017)