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The Price of Carelessness

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Postby RickI » Thu Mar 07, 2002 5:47 am

This is the last accident that I HOPE to post directly here for a while. Coming so close on the heels of the last highly experienced kitesurfer accident and some of the shared causes, I thought it was important to post it here. We REALLY must take this sport much more seriously and be methodical in our methods if we are going to reduce all these avoidable accidents.

Incident # 2 02 9
Date: Feb. 2002? Location: Cape Hatteras, NC
Title: Small Errors In High Wind Can Break Your Back
Posted by: Rick Iossi

Summary: A very experienced kitesurfer of roughly four years at the sport had just rigged his North Rhino 7.5 m in 30 kt. winds. He went to launch his kite but didn't notice that his lines were crossed and that he had to rotate his bar to clear them. Once the kite was launched and caught in the high wind it hurled violently out of control across the window and lofted the kiter into a severe powerful impact on land. The kiter was diagnosed as having fractured a vertebrae, i.e. "his back was broken". He recently had a serious operation from which reportedly 9 out of 10 people never walk again. This rider I am told will walk again, which is a very good thing. He is very lucky. No other details are available at this time about the accident.

Lessons learned/prevention:

1. ALWAYS CAREFULLY PREFLIGHT your gear. On high wind days, two
or three checks wouldn't be too cautious. In pre-flighting MAKE
CERTAIN that your lines are of equal length. Also pick your bar up and look down the lines to the kite to make sure your lines are clear.

2. Here is another case where a helmet and impact vest could
have made an important difference in degree of injury or even actual
survival. Remember this was an extremely experienced rider who if
the conventional wisdom is accurate, which unfortunately it is not in
my opinion, would NEVER NEED A HELMET. In this case it is uncertain whether a helmet would have helped or not, an impact vest might have but why gamble?
3. GOOD JUDGMENT is the most essential kitesurfing resource
that we have. If you don't exercise good, responsible judgment, all
the skill and experience in the world may not help or even save you.
Good judgment is the product of thorough training, careful experience
and CHOOSING TO USE IT! If you trivialize safety this sport can have
a way of putting you inline in the most violent and damaging means
4. Be focused and methodical when setting up and preflighting. Make it a hard habit, doing it the same way each time. The routine may save you a great deal of trouble.

Comments: This rider had extensive experience, far more than most. Add to that most of his experience was in Cape Hatteras which has frequent high winds. There is no more demanding riding environment than high wind kitesurfing. In reality I suspect that many of us have made or have come close to making the same simple mistake that this rider did. It is nothing more than human to make the odd minor mistake. In this case in major wind, a minor mistake could be almost lethal or at best severely damaging. I suspect that the speed at which this happened no manual safety release could have but put into action in time. These lofting incidents can happen at blinding, numbing speed. Once you start to launch an out of control kite there is very little that you can do but ride it out and hope for the best. The key is avoiding having it happen in the first place.

Hang gliders used to die all too often by forgetting to attach the hang strap from their harness to their glider. They still do but at a much lower rate as they learned from all the incidents. They would foot launch off a cliff and find themselves hanging off their base tube. It is infeasible to fly the glider in the position and rapidly loosing control and crashing at high speed is pretty inevitable. It is a very simple step, hooking into a hang strap but people are human and they forget.

High wind kitesurfing is like that, small mistakes are way too costly. Like hang gliders I really think we need a fixed preflight list to reduce the chance of such costly mistakes. These accidents and others in high wind really make me think that riders should really consider their level of experience and caution before going out in winds over 25 mph. Sure lots of us have done it for years, but the mistakes can be devastating. Note that was both EXPERIENCE and CAUTION. Some of our best and brightest have been careless and have been injured or have died in accidents. It is human nature to become complacent with the familiar. Complacency in high wind kitesurfing like flying an airplane or hang glider is just unacceptable. It took lots of accidents in those activities to prove that, I hope we don't need very many to convince kitesurfers to take this more seriously and prepare very carefully before going out kitesurfing. So riders should carefully consider what is at risk before going out in higher winds and perhaps chose to wait for more reasonable conditions.

I have put together a preliminary pre-flight list. It focuses on inflatable kites but a foil version wouldn't be very different. It is derived in part from lessons learned from actual incidents in the Accident Database. It would be good to get some input on this as the final version should be widely distributed and used in my opinion.


1. Is the launch open, free of downwind hard objects, nearby power lines, buildings or large walls and bystanders?

2. Check your kite for tears or leaky bladders. If you have leaky bladders or tears in your kite, repair them before flying.

3. Check your pigtails, center line loop and leaders for wear and abrasions. If the sheathing shows any breaks or the lines cuts, replace them. They should be replaced no less frequently than every 6 months.

4. Check your flying lines for knots or cuts. If you have either and you can't easily free the knot, replace your lines.

5. Are all your larksheads firmly seated and are your lines free of tangles? Make sure your lines are of equal length. The lines stretch unequally during use so check this before each launch.

6. If you are solo launching make sure your kite is properly anchored with sand and is draped downwind so as not to prematurely launch.

7. Just before launch pick your bar up and carefully look down the lines for tangles.

8. MAKE SURE that there are no bystanders beside your kitelines or kite. All bystanders should be ideally at least two kiteline lengths away or more in the downwind direction.

9. Avoid hooking or snapping in while onshore or near hard objects. If you must connect to your centerline loop having one or more safety releases and frequently rehearsing on how and when to release them is imperative.

10. Make sure you have proper safety equipment, i.e. a kite depowering leash, good well fitting helmet, impact vest, gloves and hook knife.

11. Announce your intention to launch and then launch promptly.

12. Bring your kite only high enough off the beach to clear obstructions. DO NOT BRING YOUR KITE TO NEUTRAL WHILE NEAR (two line lengths or more) HARD OBJECTS.

13. Once your kite is in the air go offshore WITHOUT DELAY.

14. If there is are heavy waves where you need to put on your board consider body dragging outside the breaker zone.

(Pre-flight List Feb. 6, 2002)

There are many other points that could be included but in the interest of keeping it short that is what I tried to do. In reality the above list is too wordy that is where your suggestions come into play. We are all in this together so send in your ideas. We need to try to reduce inevitable human error from hurting more of our own.

Rick Iossi

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Postby Toby » Thu Mar 07, 2002 9:07 am

thanks for this list, Rick.
Every week we should post this list for newbees to read carefully.

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Postby RickI » Thu Mar 07, 2002 1:44 pm


You are right. It will take putting this in front of people frequently enough for the need for a careful approach to sink in. This applies particularly to new kitesurfers.

The reason that I posted the last two accidents directly is that they involved highly experienced, expert level kitesurfers. Both committed a common human weakness, they made errors. Some of the errors were relatively minor and some were not. Minor or not they became very major and life threatening in the high wind environment in which they were in. Either one could have critically injured bystanders if some were unlucky enough to have been in their path.

The critical lesson here is that we need to be much more methodical and less careless in the way we approach this sport. Many experienced riders that I see are equally or more careless by coming too close to shore underway, jumping upwind of bystanders, launching upwind and too close to bystanders, the list goes on way too long...

Neither of these riders were wearing helmets or impact vests. These advanced riders are the role models more many other kitesurfers. By not wearing this basic safety gear they probably suffered greater injury than they might have otherwise. It they hit a little differently both could have been killed for want of a helmet. I hope that they reconsider using it in the future. For the rest of us, I hope we think about using this safety gear again and start to use it.

Sorry for the rant but we need to really take control and approach this sport in a more methodical and responsible way. The consequences of not doing this are happening now and costing kitesurfers and this sport way too much.

Rick Iossi

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Postby SKIBUMNCO » Thu Mar 07, 2002 5:59 pm


Postby Guest » Thu Mar 07, 2002 11:39 pm

What do you mean by "PREFLIGHT your gear"?
Does it mean going through the check list that you provided?

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Postby RickI » Fri Mar 08, 2002 1:06 am

Yes, just like before flying an aircraft, this list or one like it. Preflight checklists came to flying when it became apparent that too many mistakes were resulting in avoidable accidents. Given the high level of skill and experience of some of the recent casualties and the very basic errors in some cases, it seems like it is time for a checklist for kitesurfing.

Rick Iossi

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