August 09, 2012
On Friday, August 3, 2012, at approximately 9 am, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call from bystanders at Glacier Point who witnessed a hang gliding accident approximately 400 feet below the Glacier Point lookout. The bystanders reported that the subject took off from Glacier Point and then struck a tree with one of his wings, which caused him to crash into the sloping north-facing terrain below. The subject landed in a grove of manzanita that was difficult to access. Emergency response units from both the Wawona and Valley districts of the park responded to the scene. Upon arrival, NPS medical and rescue personnel determined that the patient had sustained critical injuries and an expeditious extrication would be necessary. Due to the severity of the subject's injuries and the extended time it would take to prepare and execute a technical raise from his location, rescuers decided that a short-haul extrication would be most appropriate. Rescue personnel on scene cut the subject out of the hang glider, and, while providing emergency medical care to the subject, packaged him for the short-haul. A ranger was then brought in by short-haul, the subject was clipped into the short-haul rigging, and both were short-hauled to Ahwahnee Meadow, where the subject was transferred to Mercy Air Ambulance and flown to definitive care. The patient sustained a dislocated elbow, a mandibular fracture, and significant facial trauma.
Through cooperative efforts, Yosemite National Park has granted permission to the Yosemite Hang Gliders Association (a chapter of the United States Hang Gliders Association) to conduct hang gliding activities solely from Glacier Point; one condition of the permit is that a qualified hang gliding monitor must be present. Launch times, landing zones, and pilot qualifications are highly regulated.
Within the last year and a half there have been two significant hang gliding accidents in the park. Both pilots sustained significant injuries. The pilot in this accident was very experienced-it is important to remember that even those with years of experience can make critical mistakes. In any high-risk activity, maintaining awareness, avoiding complacency, and double-checking systems are as important for experts as they are for novices.