The tale that follows is an excellent example of how enthusiasm and eagerness can lead a pilot into taking unnecessary risks, even when those risks have been recognized, and plans laid to mitigate them.

Here are a few emails and photos from the Irish HG/PG Club list server (I flew with some of these pilots in 1996 and 2000). The first describes a powered HG flight from the Cliffs of Moher, on Ireland's SW coast, to the Arran Islands and back; the companion photos give you an idea how far the islands are from the mainland as well as the height of these well-known cliffs.

The pilot, Fran, suggests a group of pilots soar the cliffs without power, with boats in the water on standby in case they fall into the drink. Some pilots are enthusiastic, and the attempt is made by Fran, albeit without the boats on standby. The sequence of events and consequences are described in the following emails. We would do well to take a lesson from the second-last email from Bertie; all the more persuasive because of its balanced and only mildly-judgemental tone. The final email is a more detailed account of what transpired after the HG pilot landed in the water.

John Dullahan

>Subject: The Cliff`s are almost conquered!
>Date: Fri, 19 Jul 2002 12:52:52 +0100

   I just happened to be camping in Doolin last week with Deirdre and the kids when the wind came around to the North. After finishing my bowl of cornflakes I rang Robert who is the local paraglider pilot and asked him about take off and landing fields. He showed me a top class field for take off with a beautiful 8 mph NW breeze but unfortunately I could not land there as the slope was to great and even on take off if the engine failed I was in for a swim. I got my gear together and took two steps before I became airborne and within minutes I was treated to one of the most spectacular flights of my life.
The views were just stunning as I made my way down to the very end of the cliffs and beyond. I let the revs down to slightly above idle and then tried to screw my way down to the gaping crowds below which I have say wasn’t easy but thoroughly enjoyable. After gorging myself with the sights of the Cliff`s I decided to take a trip to the Aran Islands just to get the feel for over water flying and the prospect of no landing, and I can tell you it was adrenaline pumping stuff!
It took me 20 minutes to get to Inisheer with nowhere to land, only the dark waters of the Atlantic; but it only took 7 minutes to come back with the reassuring tail wind. I have realized one of my dreams but will not be completely satisfied until I soar the cliffs without power!!!! ANYBODY??? Fran.

>From: "Dara Hogan" <>

   Hi Pilots, Why are we holding back on this? With a little planning (as follows) paragliders could most certainly soar the Cliffs of Moher. Everyone would have to wear full life-jackets and quick-release harnesses. All it would need (given the right wind and weather) would be two, pre-arranged rescue boats below - one wide, flat, mast-less boat to land on and one small fast rescue boat (a RIB) to pick up anyone who misses the landing deck.
   The right wind would be NW ~12mph directly on to the cliffs and the right weather would be no more than 3ft swells on the sea below. From my recollection, there are high and low points on the cliffs and it should be possible to take-off at a high point with the option of immediately flying back to top-land on a nearby low-point if the conditions were not soarable. The boats below should be the last resort.
   When I got too low over the sea in Olu Deniz, Jocky drove along beneath me in his little speed-boat as I headed for the beach on max-glide so that I could pop into the boat if I didn't make it (which I did).
   This arrangement would also apply to HGs, but they would not really be able to plan for a boat deck landing and they would have to risk ditching and hoping to be picked up if they could not top-land. The whole arrangement would need to be carefully organized with relatively few pilots in the air so that there was no possibility of the facilities being overwhelmed by multiple ditchings.
   Is this something that IHPA should consider? The publicity value would be enormous. If we attracted significant media coverage there is no doubt that our schools would be completely overwhelmed by the hundreds of "Joe Publics" wanting to learn to fly!
>>>> Dara <<<

>From: "Tim Ryan" <>

Dara, I'm on for it! Ian has a 15Ft speed boat, and Charlie could "drag net" the rest of us out of the sea with his fishing boat. I'm only concerned about your paraglider washing facilities should we ditch...
Keep me informed!! Tim

Hi Pilots,
   At the very time that I clicked on "Send" with my last mail, Fran Denny was actually flying the Cliffs of Moher (without his engine). Brian Russell also flew the cliffs on his paraglider. Unfortunately, it all went wrong and Fran was lucky to escape with his life.
   After some soaring they were both drilled; Brian was able to top-land, but Fran didn't make it -- he ended up in the dead zone below the lip. When he realized he was going in, he radioed Deirdre (a fond farewell?) and shortly afterwards he flared onto the water just like a normal landing. He had unzipped and opened all the buckles apart from one and he took a deep breath at touchdown and got out of the harness without too much difficulty. Luckily the glider floated and Fran then swam behind it, pushing it in towards the base of the cliffs.
   Deirdre had called the emergency services and luckily (again), a chopper was in the area and they winched Fran up and dropped him at Doolin Pier. He got a boat back out to the glider which by now had suffered some relatively small abrasion damage from the rocks. However, as they were recovering it a large wave smashed the leading edge. Fran wasn't wearing a life-jacket and this is a lesson for us all! Glad that you're OK Fran!
>>> Dara <<<

>From: "Bertie" <

   Having lost a few good friends in hang gliding, I must say it was with great disappointment that I read of the encouragement of people to fly sea cliffs with no safe landing place. Have we learned nothing in the last 28 years or so of hang gliding on this island? I am not in the least surprised to read of Fran's sea landing, but he is one of the very few to survive such an event. Are any cliffs worth it? I expect the sport has now got the publicity Dara was hoping for - but maybe not of the sort he thought.
    No doubt he has got the best possible answer to his question "why are we holding back on this?". The old public perception of hang glider/paraglider pilots as suicidal cretins may not, after all, be a thing of the past. Please, please, guys (and girls) - even if you don't give a damn for your own life, at least don't inflict such a crazy risk on your family and friends. What we do has always been dangerous, but has got safer over the 26 years that I have been in the sport - or has it?
   Let's hope that in this selfish and greedy world, that at least in our own small corner we can look after each other and set a good example to those less experienced. I am so glad that Fran survived - I wouldn't want to lose another friend in the sport. I hope that we have all learned a lesson from this, although this particular incident is just a replay of many that have gone before in other places, with sadder endings.
    "It'll never happen to me" seems reasonable - until it does happen, and as the survivor of a careless mistake requiring a reserve 'chute deployment at 300ft in 1987, I should know. Please, please folks - take care. Lifejacket or not - landing in the sea is usually "goodbye". Bertie

>From: "Fran Denny" <
>To: <
>Subject: Confessions of a hangdiver.
>Date: Wed, 24 Jul 2002 22:23:47

    Now that the foam has settled and the salt water has drained out of my ears I would like to give my version of events that took place on Saturday 20th of July. But before I do I would like to thank everybody for all the phone calls and Emails and comments on the newsgroup wishing me well and being genuinely concerned about my health and for that I am very grateful, it is at times like this that you how many friends you really have.
   The wind was NNW 10 Knots on the small 100 foot ridge ( I had taken off from the field just behind the ridge on the previous Tuesday with the Doodle bug and had successfully flown the cliffs and aran Islands ); ideally the wind would need to be NW. But I had encountered no turbulence on the powered flight and there was plenty of lift with the engine at slightly above idle. With this in mind I took off and soared the small ridge and headed for the bigger cliffs, I stopped at a steep ridge at the Doolin end of the cliffs of Moher; there was no landing directly in front of this ridge but I was within easy reach of a landing field if required.
    I gained sufficient height at this point to hop diagonally on to the first of the five NW cliff faces -- I then spent 45 mins soaring this mind blowing piece of natural beauty before deciding that I had enough height and courage to make the next leap of faith, but this is where I made my grave error of judgment and met my waterloo ( no pun intended ). I had radioed to my wife, who was watching from the tower at the main lookout point of the cliff, and told her I was on my way. Seconds after committing myself to the run I was treated to a roller coaster ride of enormous ferocity, only this one had a spectacular view. I had no option but to run with it and I headed straight for the NW facing cliff just under the lookout tower. I then entered the dead zone half-way down the cliff.
   I tried in vain to find a bit of lift but there was none, and it was at this point that the seriousness of the situation sank in. I radioed to my wife that I was going in and she immediately contacted search and rescue (they were on their way before I hit the water). In the mean time, I was busy unzipping my harness with one hand and trying to set up a decent approach with the other, I brought the glider around and picked out a spot which was calm looking and not too far from the cliff and prepared for the inevitable. As soon as my feet hit the water I made a full flare, took a deep breath and went under.
   There was a small pocket of air under the trailing edge of the glider and I managed to catch a few breaths while I unclipped my chest buckle and one of my leg loops, but the other leg loop was stuck -- and this is where panic nearly took over. I told myself that if I didn`t stay calm I was going to be another statistic, so I moved back along the keel and found that I could get out from under the sail while still in the harness. I tried again to unclip the leg loop but couldn`t figure it out, so I pulled my leg up through it and was free. It was only then I could start to relax and I began to swim to shore while pushing the glider, which was acting as a buoyancy aid. Within a few minutes I could hear the mighty roar of the rescue helicopter and for a moment I thought I was in Vietnam. It hovered 100 feet above me and the noise was deafening, and the wind and spray was like a sand blaster but I didn`t feel a thing. I was winched to safety within a couple of minutes and winched back down to Doolin pier where I met the boat crew and we all went out to retrieve the glider.
   All in all I had a lucky escape and would put my survival down to a lot of luck and a lot of mental preparation before take off which helped me not to panic when the shit hit the fan. There have been many comments since last Saturday's events, most of them of a condemning nature, and I suppose I deserve them. However, what a lot of people don`t realize is that I had been flying the cliffs for an hour and a half before this incident happened, and that the reason it happened was because of a change in wind direction. I had taken off in a NNW and during the flight it veered NNE (of which I was unaware) and was caught out by unexpected rotor. There were also a few comments about my not caring about my family and friends which I think are a bit unfair. I want to say that I love my family and friends more than anything and would never intentionally set out to hurt them in anyway. And if anyone thinks that I don`t give a damn about my own life then they couldn`t be further from the truth, I am enjoying life too much and have too many ambitions to achieve before I`d want to give it up. We also saw alot of harsh comments directed at Dara which I feel were unwarranted. Dara Hogan is one of the most dedicated and energetic members of the Irish flying community that I know of and without him this mailing list would be non-existent and the IHPA would not be far behind it. He is unparalleled in his thoughts and ideas and ambitions for our sport and to be shot down so abruptly on his last proposal is at best derogatory.
   The cliffs of Moher can be flown safely with a bit of planning and had Dara`s proposals been in place last Saturday I wouldn`t have got into difficulty in the first place. We all take up flying for our own reasons but basically we want the same thing, the freedom of free flight and the adrenaline pumping through our veins. Some pilots are happy to fly their local site on the weekend while others want to jump off volcanoes. Where would our sport be today if the pioneers of hang gliding and paragliding didn`t try new things and push out the boundaries every now and then? Every site has its dangers and has to be respected, but the more we get to know a site the easier it is to avoid the trouble spots and the only way to get to know it is to fly it!
   I admit that I was wrong in trying to fly such an awesome site without being properly prepared and I have learned my lesson well and I take on board all the comments that have been said especially from friends like Bertie Kennedy who has seen alot, knows alot and I have great respect for him. Having said that I reserve the right to the cliffs again in the future with a little help from my friends........ and a few of Dara`s suggestions! Safe landings, Fran.