Paragliding is as safe as you make it. The safety checks, quality of equipment, preparedness, wind, air pressure and visibility are the main factors that decide how safe the flight would be.
With a large number of paragliding sites came up in recent years, Himachal has emerged as the top destination for paragliding in the country. With nearly a lakh tourist trying hand at (tandem) paragliding, Kullu-Manali tops the list in terms of number. And the Kullu district is also topping the list of most fatal paragliding accidents. Five persons have died in four accidents this year only while many have sustained injuries. Human error is the main reason behind maximum accidents.
Tourists generally go for a tandem flight but nobody asks pilots for their license, registration and quality of the equipment. In many accidents, pilots were found to be flying without a valid license and registration with the tourism department. The pilots, who always remain in hurry to finish the flight to catch another customer, never brief the dos and don’ts to the customers who always remain in suspense that what to do next. Almost 100 per cent of the clients here are tourists.
On Monday, a tourist from Chennai was killed in similar accident where tourist slipped off the safety harness and fell on the ground from altitude of hundreds of feet near Falayan in Kullu. He died on the spot. The matter, according to police, appeared to be negligence in safety check. Similar incident had happened in May 2015 when a Mumbai tourist had died of harness failure at Solang valley.
Falayan, Solang, Majhach, Diyar and Kharahal are the main paragliding spots in Kullu district where thousands of tourists enjoy joy-rides. The most operators at these sites are not following the proper safety procedures. While some are flying with outdated paragliders and harnesses, some even fly with two children at a time. This is the reason dozens of tourists visit hospitals in the district with broken limbs every year.
According to experts, there are some dos and don’ts that should be taken care of before going for paragliding which should be checked for safe and thrilling experience.
Best time for paragliding in Kullu Manali
Except for July to September, paragliding is legal and considered safe in Himachal. Still, this thrilling outdoor sport can be fatal if done during rain, snowfall, thunderstorm and on a windy day. Before booking the ticket, tourists should ensure that day is clear and pleasant. Paragliding in state remains completely banned during monsoon season under Himachal Pradesh Aero Sports Rules, 2004.
Safety checks before going paragliding
– Before you hit the sky, check if weather is clear and safe for paragliding.
– Ask the pilot to show his license to fly and make sure that he is registered with tourism of Himachal Pradesh. Before this, ask his full name.
– Check and make sure that flying equipment are new. Every paraglider is made to fly for certain hours, after which it retires.
– Ask pilot to brief you in advance on what to do and what don’t starting from taking off till you land.
– Check your safety harness is tied and secured safely with you and the karabiner. With some mild jerks, you can check if the locks are slipping.
– Wear a helmet of proper size and belt it up. Ask pilot that he has working reserve parachute.
– Make sure that you are mentally prepared to touch the sky, several hundred meters above the ground. Once to take off, there is no way back.
– If you think pilot is putting your life in danger despite you resist, dial 100 (police) or 01902252175 (tourist information centre) to file a complaint.
Never do this
– Do not attempt flying in bad weather condition, poor visibility, rain or during snowfall.
– Landing is the most crucial part of tandem paragliding. Do not wear sandal and chappals which can cause you leg injury.
– Never ask your pilot to do stunts like wing overs, spirals and top landing which have tendency to go parachutal stall. The stunts are meant for professional paragliding only.
– If you feel unwell while midair, do not panic and shout. This can put the pilot in stress who can take a wrong decision under pressure. Instead, ask him calmly that you are not feeling well and he should land as soon as possible.
– Do not fly if your harness seat does not have enough cushion where you can’t sit and which cannot provide you enough protection in case of dragged landing. Ask your pilot to change the cushion harness.
– If you have knee, back, heart, breathing related problem, avoid paragliding.
How to choose a safe paragliding site and pilot in Kullu Manali
According to Roshan Thakur, the first civilian paraglider of Himachal, who also runs a paragliding school in Manali, a safe paragliding is responsibility of both pilot and customer. “Kullu district has multiple paragliding sites. Tourists should choose a site where there is no rush. The site should be approved by the tourism department. It is always safe to book your ticket through paragliding association counter and ensure that you get a licensed and experienced pilot. Never ask your pilot for stunts and to go beyond the limit. If you feel unsafe and uncomfortable with a particular pilot, do not take off. Harness, helmet and other safety checks should be done in advance. High fly is always safer than the low fly as you get some time to rectify the errors in you are high above the ground.”
Another paraglider Rakesh Kumar said almost all the paragliding accidents in Kullu-Manali are result of human error. “We know that all adventure activity has risk involved with it. But we can reduce the risk if we act wisely. Tourists should not totally depend on pilot for safety checks as many pilots treat them just as a customer. Do not argue with your pilot. If, while asking for his license, other documents and condition of the equipment, tourists enter an argument, it is wise to cancel the flight and find another pilot as angry pilot is not less than a devil who will be controlling your life,” he said.
Manali Paragliding Association president Chaman Lal said his association has nearly 172 pilots who have valid license. None of our member flies in bad weather condition. The association has already made it clear that a strict action would be taken against the offenders who fly against the rules, he said.
What is paragliding
A paraglider is a mixture of parachute and hang-glider (delta). The shoot is made of a rectangular piece of ripstop nylon which is specially coated with polyurethane to avoid porosity. The shape is attached to a reed by lines. The canopy is constructed of a top and a bottom surface joined by a number of vertical segments, resulting in chambers known as “the cells”. The opening at the front is called the leading edge. After inflation, the canopy takes up an airfoil shape with a fattish lower surface and a curved top. The rear edge of the wing is called the trailing edge. The lines are made of very strong Kevlar and are usually encased in an outer sheath of nylon. The risers connect the canopy lines to the reed. The trailing edge is connected by risers called control lines and constitute the most important part of the glider. The control risers let the pilot maneuver the paraglider.
Paragliding courses in Manali
Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali, conducts a five-day basic course in paragliding.
Day 1 – Familiarization with the equipment, inflation technique and ground run.
Day 2 – Practice ground runs and hopping techniques.
Day 3 – Alpine launch (take off techniques).
Day 4 – Supervised solo flight including practice turns.
Day 5 – Practice spot landing and solo flight.
Update on November 25, 2019
Now training must for commercial paragliding pilots in Kullu
After a large number of tourists becoming the victim of paragliding accidents in Kullu, the district administration on Monday decided to make a special training programme must for all the commercial pilots to be able to run business in the district.
Five people have died in four paragliding accidents this year only. A large number of other tourists have sustained injuries. Everybody has been pointing finger at the tourism department and administration for their incapability in stopping the accidents. The deputy commissioner on Monday called on a meeting of paragliding monitoring committee to make some strict rules so that mishaps can be stopped at all the seven paragliding sites of Kullu.
It was decided that all the commercial pilots will have to undergo a special training programme. Manali based Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS) will organize the programme for the pilots and will issue them certificate after successful completion of the course. Those who will not have this certificate will not be allowed to fly.
“Over 300 pilots are organizing tandem flights under 24 paragliding companies that are registered with the district. Paragliding is providing self-employment to a large number of local youth. But, we have to ensure that all the safety standards are being followed properly for the safety of the tourists. A small mistake may result in loss of a precious life and may also harm the local tourism,” she said.
The DC directed officials of tourism department and ABVIMAS to design a comprehensive training programme for the pilots. She added that all standards of safety, dealing with tourists and other aspects should be included in the training syllabus.
“All the paragliding sites would be developed systematically on the lines of Solang valley paragliding association. The booking counters of all the paragliding companies would be removed from roadsides and booking counters would be established with the help of local associations. The paragliding technical committee has been directed to visit all the paragliding sites of Kullu-Manali to review the safety standards,” she added.
Over 30 lakh tourists visit Kullu district every year and thousands of them try hand at tandem paragliding. The local operators here offer low and high flies in tandem. In past years, the number of accidents in paragliding has increased. In many cases, pilots were found to be flying without a license. Brawls with tourists is a common problem at paragliding sites. To deal with these problems, Kullu administration is framing strict rules for pilots so that the adventure sport becomes safe and memorable.
Update on December 18, 2019
Tests conducted for paraglider pilots in Kullu, only 58 pass test
Over 30 per cent of the paraglider pilots in Kullu, who claim to have years of experience in flying, have failed in the test conducted by the technical committee of tourism department.
According to officials, after series of fatal accidents in adventure sports activities, Kullu administration has tightened screw on the operators. In this series, the technical committee which has members from tourism department and Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS), are taking tests of the pilots at the authorized paragliding sites of Kullu-Manali which are visited by lakhs of tourists.
Surprisingly, only 58 out of 92 pilots from Dobhi, Raison and Garsa sites have passed the test while 34 have failed. Not just flying skills but equipments of the pilots were checked for genuineness and efficiency. The wings were also test electronically. The test was conducted at Dobhi paragliding site.
Only passed pilots were authorized to fly for next six months. However, all the pilots will have to undergo a special training progamme conducted by ABVIMAS. The purpose is to make tandem flights safe for tourists and minimize the accidents. Only trained pilots with valid license and equipments will be allowed to fly in the state.
ABVIMAS director Colonel Neeraj Rana said 92 pilots from Dobhi, Raison and Garsa areas had applied for the test and only 58 have passed the test. “Whenever we go to take test at any site every year, a large number of other youth come forward with a claim that they have flying experience of many years and should be given one opportunity. Most of such claims are false,” he said.
The committee has now decided that all the pilots will have to keep an electronic logbook application with them while flying which will keep record of the flying time.
“The government is convinced with it that electronic logbook should be made mandatory for the pilots. This will help us in issuing license to the eligible pilot as the application will show us genuine data of his past flying,” Rana added.
The technical committee is visiting all the paragliding sites and is ensuring that they are equipped with all the safety measures. As thousands of tourists go for paragliding in Kullu district, it has become an integral part of the tourism that is providing self-employment to hundreds of youth. The administration is taking strict steps to streamline the sport and allow only trained pilots to make this adventure sport safe and tourist friendly.