Pilot distraction once again plays a role in this incident. We urge you to adopt several techniques in order to minimize the risk that you will one-day launch unhooked. See Hook-In Tips for a few ideas.
Flew the rock on Monday with S. where we encountered fairly strong and north cross conditions. S. launched first and climbed out to roughly 2K, an altitude I could never reach during my entire flight. We both managed around 1.5 hrs.
On the way out I stopped and visited with B., who is doing remarkable well. He is moving his hands and walking about very well. I think he can't wait to start hang gliding again. When I left and drove home, I reflected on his situation, and the nature of our sport. I've always considered myself a meticulous pilot when it comes to pre-flight procedures, and have always stuck with a routine which I felt would prevent anything like that from happening to me.
Less than 24 hours later I would launch unhooked from High Point in Cumberland.
I was there with just a few pilots. L. launched first into very light conditions, and had a very quick ride (for him) to the lz due to light conditions. A line of pilots formed at launch. I had performed my usual pre-flight and self hook-in check before getting on launch behind the next pilot. Meanwhile, conditions went from questionably soarable to questionably launchable. The pilot in front of me waited for an ideal cycle to launch into, and didn't feel comfortable with the light conditions. After about 20 minutes or so of waiting I became uncomfortable and started trying to find a sit-down or kneeling position while still remaining hooked-in. Sometime during this process my radio slipped off my shoulder strap, and I had to readjust it.
I unhooked to do so and my fate was cast.
I became so distracted by the process of messing with my radio that I clean forgot to hook back in. Also, I was growing impatient with launching and pushed the pilot in front of me to launch. I got on launch and shortly thereafter saw a cycle that I felt I could reasonably launch into. I ran aggresively, and when I was going very fast I leaned forward to prone out while gently easing out on the basetube. I remember thinking for a split second how unusual it was that I was sinking fast towards the ground, despite the tremendous speed I had. The next second was something of a blur, as my harness finally contacted the ground and I perfomed a full sumersault into the rocks and bushes below launch. I heard a bang and some crunching, and my first thought was I had blown my launch when my gider contacted the ground.
I sat up expecting to see to see the twisted wreckage of my glider, but I was down in some brush and couldn't see anything. I then stood up and brushed myself off, and in a flash of incredulous disbelief I realized I had launched unhooked. I climbed back up to launch where I took my gear off and everybody asked me if I was OK. A quick survey revealed no major injuries, my full-face helmet once again saved my face and head from any damage.
My ST decided to go fly without me anyway, and turned left off of launch. We found it down the mountain some ways where it had slid through the canopy to the ground. I ascertained that I could pack it up by myself, and told the others to go back to launch since they still wanted to fly. With the kind assistance of T., ( the new driver for the Cumberland boys) I managed to pack and haul my glider up the very steep and very slippery slope.
OK, I've saved the juicy part for last. Details of damage to myself and glider:
I feel like I've been mugged or just played a hard game of tackle football, I have many bumps and bruises from head to toe. The worst injuries appear to be bruises to both hands and my right shoulder. I also hit my right knee hard and got a long abrasion. My knee is sore, and I twisted my left ankle in the process of hauling my glider out of the woods. However, all body parts appear to be fully functional with no excessive pain or swelling. Despite having commited perhaps the ultimate stupidity in hang gliding, I realize fully that I am one hell of a lucky SOB to not have gotten killed. Not so much because of how I hit, but because I had made the error at a shallow slope launch in light conditions.
My glider appears to have flown into the tree canopy and slipped to the ground, impacting left wing down. The tip wand snapped, and the rear leading edge failed just past the juncture with the front. When I broke the glider down I did not observe any major tears or punctures or damage to other tubes, no damage to the carbon cross-bars.
Rather than inspire a new round of soul-searching, safety meetings, and piling up the server with "in my opinions," I would like save everyone the trouble of finding the answer to preventing launching unhooked: Always use the "Australian" method of clipping your harness to the glider. If any diddling of gear or other interruption occurs, climb out and back into the harness after you're done, however inconvenient that might be. Unless you're breaking down or have already flown, once clipped in the harness you should never be unclipped from the glider.
Otherwise, your odds are no better than mine.
Educational Resources for Hang Gliding