Wing-collapse warning after paraglider death

 Dave Jongsma
Dave Jongsma
A coroner has reminded the paragliding community about the dangers of wing collapse after a Hawea Flat chiropractor was killed when he crashed into a rock face.

David Michael Jongsma died when he crashed into a cliff while paragliding in the Mt Roy area, near Wanaka, on January 2 last year.

A coroner's report released today has found the crash was accidental and appeared to have been caused by wing collapse.

Coroner David Robinson, of Dunedin, said Mr Jongsma (54) was a paraglider of moderate experience who began lessons in September 2016.

He had previously flown from Treble Cone to Wanaka in a cross-country course in 2017, his intended route on the day of the crash, and had subsequently flown the route several times.

The instructor on the course had some reservations about aspects of Mr Jongsma's flying but remarked that "for someone with 50 to 100 hours [of flying time], he was flying well''.

Dr Jongsma and a flying companion were using similar paraglider wing types, designed to correct from canopy collapses quickly, and said to be suitable for paragliders of their experience.

Upon take-off, he suffered a collapse on the right side of his wing and spun towards the launch area.

He went to pull down on the control lines to slow the wing but was then told to go ''hands up'' by a tandem pilot, at which point the wing re-inflated and he was able to correct his course and fly away from the hill.

After take-off, he commented on the radio there was plenty of lift in the air that day but the air was a ''bit bumpy''.

The coroner reported the sequence of events before the crash was observed by another paraglider, Melanie Heather.

She had landed at Glendhu Bay after becoming nervous about the ''strength and punchiness of the thermals,'' which she thought were becoming stronger and less predictable.

Ms Heather was flying in the same area Dr Jongsma crashed in but slightly lower, the coroner reported.

After becoming uncomfortable with her height she said flew to a safe landing place to avoid being “low and close to the terrain given the unpredictable nature of the thermals."

From her vantage point, she saw Dr Jongsma flying low and said he experienced a ''large asymmetric wing collapse'' where about three quarters of the wing collapsed.

He then flew behind a rocky ridge at speed and Ms Heather said she knew the outcome would not be good.

Timothy Heather, another paraglider, described the sequence of events which followed.

Dr Jongsma was flying close to a rocky face before a wing collapse on the right hand side, which spun him into the cliff, he said.

The coroner said the contents of a post-mortem led him to conclude the injuries were likely fatal ''almost instantly''.

As for whether the death could have been prevented, the coroner said other pilots had safely flown in the area before and at the time of the crash.

"Safe navigation of the area appears to have been dependent on recognising and reacting appropriately to the prevailing conditions,'' he wrote.

The coroner said in his findings there was a benefit in reminding the paragliding community of the potential for wing collapse and its consequences.

Dr Jongsma, of Hawea Flat, had been working as a chiropractor in Wanaka for close to 20 years

He was remembered last year as a  "big, friendly happy person".

His friend, Wanaka man John Levy, said at the time Dr Jongsma had a passion for the outdoors.

"As tragic all of this is, if there is anything positive to learn about his death was that Dave died like a champ.

"No nappies, no drooling, in a hospital bed of some incurable disease. He died doing exactly what he wanted to do, living life outdoors.'' 

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