CHGPA's Suggestions for Reducing the Risk of Hook-In Failure

A 16-year veteran hang-glider pilot, assisted by an experienced 3-person wirecrew, failed to hook-in at the Pulpit in December, 1997, and was nearly killed by the resulting impact on the rocks below the ramp. At a subsequent CHGPA general meeting, members brainstormed about methods that might be used to reduce the risk of such events in the future. This report summarizes the many ideas that were discussed at that meeting.

As you consider these ideas, remember that hook-in failures are not 1-in-100, or even 1-in-1000, events; they are extremely rare events. So all "solutions" proposed here are attempting to make an extremely rare event even rarer, which is a very difficult task.

At the risk of editorializing, here are the points that I felt were the most uniformly agreed-upon during our discussion:

  1. Hang-glider pilots, like all pilots involved in any other form of aviation, should run a checklist prior to every launch. A hang-check is clearly the centerpiece of any such checklist.

  2. The CHGPA should provide a sample checklist to its membership, in order to promote the practice of running a checklist.

    [Of course, many of our members have been using such checklists (both mental and printed) for years. The consensus of the meeting was that both the CHGPA BOD and the membership should take a more active role in promoting the use of a checklist with those pilots who do not. As more pilots participate, the checklist becomes standard procedure, and hopefully the risk of hook-in failure decreases.]

  3. Wirecrew members should expect a pilot-initiated checklist to be performed prior to every launch. If this does not occur, the crew should prompt the pilot to perform a checklist.

These and the many other suggestions described below fall into three classes: psychological factors, launch protocol, and a general "other techniques". If you discover errors or omissions in this compilation, please send me email and I'll update this report. Thanks!

Mark Cavanaugh
March, 1998

Psychological Factors

The Comedy of Errors

Did you forget to bolt a basetube/downtube junction? Perhaps you're struggling to tension the sail and cannot because a lower wire got wrapped around the control frame somehow? Did you just climb into your harness without putting on your jacket, so now you have to struggle back out and start all over? Maybe all three of these things just happened to you?

If you find yourself forgetting things during your setup procedures, this can be a vital clue that you are not as mentally sharp as usual. Pay attention to such lapses and step away from what you are doing in order to regain your focus. If you then find that things still aren't clicking the way they should, perhaps you shouldn't be flying today, eh?

Be cognizant of your mental state!

The One-Track Mind

Some pilots can be so intent on flying that they seem to forget the fact that years of flying and miles of thermal gains still lie in their future. You know the type: absolutely GOTTA fly, so focussed on conditions/other pilots/whatever that they don't even pay any attention to their wirecrew.

Being focussed is great, but if overdone it might result in important procedures being skipped (ie, the hang-check), and then this mind-set becomes a risk factor.

So try adopting a more laid-back attitude. If you don't get to fly today, well, so what? Fly tomorrow! The sun and the thermals aren't going anywhere...

Distractions, Distractions

We all have preferred methods of pre-flighting, approaching launch, running a checklist, and then taking to the air. With time, these methods become second-nature, and require almost no conscious thought.

But suppose something breaks your customary routine: a batten might be discovered to be loose after you've hooked-in; or your radio doesn't work and you have to climb out of your harness to fix it; or you back off of launch because conditions are rowdy, unhook, then forget to hook-in as you rush back to launch during a mellow cycle. The list of potential distractions is as varied as the conditions we fly in and the gear that we carry.

Many pilots agree that the most frequent cause of hook-in failures are distractions like these. So when they occur, try to BE AWARE THAT YOU HAVE BEEN DISTRACTED! Take a moment to acknowledge "hey, I'm breaking my routine and I don't like this! I've got to be doubly careful not to screw something up now...".

Deliberately cultivate those niggling feelings of unease that arise when your routine has been compromised; they give you an additional edge.

Launch Protocol

Other Techniques

In all likelihood, maybe ten years from now, after the recent incident has faded from everyone's memory and procedures like running launch checklists are so familiar they've become a part of the background, someone will become distracted and fail to hook-in once again.

You may be able to avoid being that someone by adopting several of the techniques described here, by flying with watchful friends, and by paying attention to your mental state as you prepare to fly.

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