Enno Roellgen's Accident

Please tell what happened and how it might have been avoided. Names should be ommitted. This forum should help others learn from mistakes that caused or nearly caused a mishap.
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Enno Roellgen's Accident

Post by MikeI »

Hi Everyone, here is the public copy of the accident report for Enno Roellgen's crash. I've left their names out of the report in case it gets distributed further, but Phil Bloom, Angelo Sta Catalina, and Jonathan Dietch were present and are more than willing to share further thoughts.

Incident Details:
Pilot: Enno Roellgen
USHPA: 107724
Rating: P3
Wing: Ozone Buzz Z6

Date: May 13, 2023
Location: Avenue S Site, Lancaster, CA - See details below
Time: Around 2:00 PM, PDT
Summary: Enno had a partial collapse of the right side of his paraglider while thermalling. He went into a spin, and impacted a bush and the ground. He was found dead when paramedics arrived.

Investigator Info:
Name: Mike Ivey (Safety Director - Sylmar Hang Gliding Association)
E-mail: mike.s.ivey@gmail.com
USHPA: 86546

There were 3 other pilots who immediately witnessed the event. The report was created based on interviews with them. Their names are left out of the report, but contact me if you are interested in further conversations and I can see about putting you in touch, as they have indicated they are willing to share their experiences with other pilots.

General conditions, based on interviews from pilot 1.
One witness did not see the event, he heard about it on the radio and secondhand. He knew Enno for a short time, but thought he was a generally pretty good pilot. Pilot 1 thought Enno had shown intermediate skills in prior flights at Kagel.

The conditions for the day looked good on forecast, with no top and a possible convergence. On launch they observed very little wind, with it a little switchy. The first pilot launched in light and variable conditions, and climbed out after some scratching. It ended up being about an 11k foot day. He found thermals with climb rates up to about 400 foot per minute, which were mostly smooth. He did not see any evidence of a shear layer or convergence which may cause unexpected turbulence. Overall, an intermediate, but not very turbulent day.

Incident details, based on interviews from pilot 2.
Pilot 2 was the immediate witness. He was in the thermal with Enno when the initial collapse happened.

Both launched around 2pm (Pilot 2 does not recall who launched first). It was a pretty challenging launch because there was no wind. Everyone was dressed for altitude and a bit tired of waiting as it was getting hot. Other pilots at the launch thought from launch conditions that it would be short flights with no lift.

Pilot 2 and Enno scratched for a while after launching, then started to climb, they were in pretty close proximity to each other, sharing a thermal. They finally started to get some altitude, and review from tracklogs and video footage showed collapse happening at 325 feet AGL.

The initiating event Enno had a 40-50% asymmetric collapse on the outside tip of his paraglider. They were turning counter clockwise in the thermal. Enno was Flying an Ozone Buzz Z6. Per Pilot 2, this is a low B glider, which he expected Enno would have been able to re-inflate.

Frompilot 2’s viewpoint it looked pretty similar to a case where the outside wing exited the lift band, and was collapsed by the sinking air on the outside of the thermal.

After his glider turned out of the thermal, it started turning the opposite way, and started spiraling. The glider held the spiral all the way to the ground. Pilot 2 was surprised, as he would have expected Enno to apply a little bit of outside break to correct. It took about 10 seconds from collapse to hitting ground.

Enno landed in a bush about ¼ mi from launch. Paramedics found that his helmet was cracked in half. The trunk of the bush was also snapped in half.

Pilot 2 spent some time watching for movement, trying to radio other pilots in the air. Pilot 2 also tried to call the driver (a pilot who lives in the area, who took them up to launch on his ATV). Pilot 2 called 911 from the air. During this time he was thermaling with 1 hand, talking with emergency services. He felt comfortable in that situation as he’d done SIV and acro training.

Pilot 2 was talking with them while hovering over where Enno crashed. Thought about top landing, but too many bushes. Did what he could to land near ambulance but ended up landing at LZ.

By that point police were being escorted up to the crash site by the driver.

No witnesses saw him try to throw the reserve. It was suggested to investigators that they check the reserve, but at this time we don’t know its status.

There is footage from a hang glider pilot’s keel camera of the initial incident. Please contact me if you would like a copy of the footage.

Pilot Details
P3 Rated, details page below.
He flew for some time previously, then took a break. When he came back, he renewed rating with Hadi Golian.

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Re: Enno Roellgen's Accident

Post by JD »

A friendly reminder to be aware of gliders in our surroundings when we fly. I launched maybe five minutes after Enno and the other PG. They had lost around 800' together and had begun to climb opposite each other as I launched my HG. As I worked the modest lift in front of launch I used the 2 PGs as a reference to decide whether to stay put or head for the back ridge in search of the stronger lift they had drifted into. One moment, I saw the pair around 300' above the ridge and the next time I looked back I saw only one PG now about 800' and climbing. I thought this was odd and wondered whether one had gone OTB low or headed away out of my field of view?

I became curious about the conditions on the back ridge and headed South to see. It was then when I noticed a blue and yellow PG neatly spread out across the access road but 1/3 of the glider wadded up in a bush. My first thought was that they must have top landed to pee or adjust something. Then I realized I could not see the pilot and nor could I see any evidence of movement. I kept an eye on the situation since I had no radio and wasn't aware of the broadcast by the other PG. The lift and turbulence increased so I allowed myself to climb but decided to stay in a distance where I could detect signs of movement. Not knowing whether the pilot was under the wadded up PG or had walked away to use the bushes I made a decision to give a total of 10 minutes before I'd attempt to land and call our driver to see if he'd heard anything or call 911 and report this as a crash with pilot in unknown status.

It wasn't long before I decided I better do thee right thing and give up the day. I was blessed with massive sink and safely on the ground after losing 3,000' in 4 minutes. My call to our driver resulted in him getting on his ATV and driving back up while I called 911. Because no one other than Jim Heaton knows this site is really called Tenhi Mountain, the 911 operator had no clue either. I used my waypoints from my 6030 to give her the coordinates of launch. She informed me the other pilot had already called 911 and emergency vehicle began to trickle in while I was still on the 911 call. A neighbor on his ATV showed up and I suggested he lead the emergency vehicles to the crash site since the roads up are pretty funky. It wasn't much longer before our driver returned to the LZ with the sad news.

From this point it became a detective's investigation until the coroner arrived and conducted an examination to determine whether this was an accident or foul play. Luckily, my glider was pointing at the scene of the asymmetric collapse when that occurred but my eyes were on my instrument as the time and I wasn't aware until a few minutes later when I spotted the glider down on the road to launch. After I retrieved my camera from the sheriff's dept a day later I studied the footage and there really wasn't much to see other than the beginning of one wing starting to fold in. That was it. Then around 2 minutes or so in the video the PG on the ground is slightly visible in the video. I have both my track log and the other PG's track log and there is nothing remarkable. I even made barometric calibrations to our data and ran our flights together in 3D animation along with the video footage and again there was nothing unusual other than it was a really good day to go X/C. We also concluded that the HRRR forecast model was very accurate in it prediction for the day. The SW wind did not reach the LZ until roughly 4:30 PM just as forecast. The turbulence encountered was ordinary.

When Markus Schadtler had his fatal accident near Contractor's Point no one saw it. Again, it was an unremarkable day with no major turbulence reported. I had both his track log and video. I was able to witness what was visible but unable to get inside Markus' head. In that case there was a powerful thermal that had severely rocked his glider and for whatever reason, he chose to fly back into it. On his second pass his glider got rolled hard and past vertical. His outboard leading edges had broken and the glider settled inverted and came down stable like a shuttlecock. He had time to throw his reserve but did not. Why? I'll never know. I know another pilot in Belgium who had his HG stall inverted and settled upside down and came down inverted but flat and stable. He also hesitated to throw his reserve but looked down at the trees and realized he was dropping much faster than he realized and quickly threw his reserve. His glider was destroyed but he was fine and has continued to fly.

Another pilot I was friends with aborted entering a loop at a coastal site in Australia and wound up with an intact but inverted glider and found himself holding on by the rear of the keel just like Markus and the Belgian pilot. He did not throw his reserve even though he had time. He died on impact with a neighbor's garage.

Assuming anyone even reads this, there is a common thread in that pilots don't always get their reserve out and ready to throw. You can always change your mind and not throw it but it's a lot easier if it's in your hand. Ave S. is covered by powerlines and it may be prudent depending on your altitude to either speed up or delay getting that reserve inflated. In the case to Doggone Bill's catastrophic breakup of his HG at the fatal 2011 Crestline aerobatics competition he wisely chose to hold his reserve in his hand until he was clear of the airborne wreckage of his glider. The opening shock broke many ribs and he was hospitalized but recovered to fly again through the present day.

Watch the clip: https://vimeo.com/22146182

Getting back to Enno's accident, until the coroner's report determines whether there was a medical event prior to the crash we may now have enough facts to make an intelligent assessment of how to protect ourselves from a similar outcome. Regardless of what anyone witnessed, we don't know the physical state of the pilot at the time of the accident. Thanks to Phill I was reminded that I recorded my flight to Big T with Enno just 3 weeks prior. All or most of his recent track logs are on Sportstracklive.com and I downloaded our flights from 4/21/23 and played them back along with the video. He seemed like a perfectly competent pilot to me who simply needed more practice flying X/C and there's only one way to get that practice and that is to fly X/C and land out. Something I do a lot, to the chagrin of of people I call for a ride.

Here's our flight together: https://youtu.be/KhRSV4cNsqY

In case anyone has forgotten, we had a pilot experience a major heart attack in flight who reported it upon landing to the initial disbelief of pilots on the ground. I know another pilot who had the same event. Both were taken to ERs in time and made full recoveries. Another pilot I know had a heart attack and landed safely but died in the LZ. His landing was safe but his condition was not recoverable due to a congenital defect.

Nobody had Enno's emergency contact information. The LASD detective in Ave S LZ tried to get in touch with next of kin. I logged in to USHPA and looked up Enno's details. There was no emergency contact information published. He was also not on the SHGA club roster when I checked later. His P3 sign-off instructor was recent and I had his phone number in my contacts so I called him and got his wife's cell#. It was the coroner's job to meet in person with Enno's wife in person. Later the detectives said they'd do this since she lives in Glendale. So please be certain that your emergency contact information can be easily located and that you know how to navigate both the SHGA club directory or the USHPA pilot lookup. Be resourceful!

Lastly, I was to talk about heroism. I thought about making a top landing next to the scene of the crash. Well, that could have ended badly and for all I knew the pilot was stuck in the bush and trapped under his glider and otherwise not badly injured. I could easily make an unknown situation into a catastrophic situation. This does happen. Also emergency responders may arrive at a scene and were not needed. Nobody made a followup call to 911 to call off the rescue. This happens too.

Prepare yourself mentally so that when things do go all pear shaped you are able to respond to the situation in a reasoned and intelligent way that preserves life and resources without making things worse. Think of the famous aerobatics pilot who died from electrocution while helping free a friend's glider from powerlines. Be resourceful but think things through.

Expect things to go wrong and consider the outcomes so when they do happen you are not frozen in a state of disbelief.
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Re: Enno Roellgen's Accident

Post by dhmartens »

Enno had not completed SIV training. Under my authorirarian leadership all paragliders must be credentialed before being allowed to Fly Sylmar or Palmdale. SIV training in itself can and does result in death. Air California Adventure offers this training.
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