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 Post subject: Fatality at Eckwarden
PostPosted: Wed Mar 24, 2004 2:30 pm 
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Fatality at Eckwarden

On March 21, 2004 an unstable weather system was passing over northern Germany bringing strong, gusty winds and rapid alternating periods of black clouds with intermittent sunshine. Many kiteboarders had discussed the poor weather forecast and decided not to ride until more suitable conditions returned. The air temperature was 7 to 9 C (45 to 48 F) with intermittent periods of frozen rain or sleet.

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Eckwarden is situated in northern Germany near the North Sea on the Butjadinger peninsula as depicted below:

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Maps from http://www.viamichelin.com/

The wind graph for Leuchtturn Alte Weser (situated offshore), located approximately 25 km (15 mi.) to the north northwest of Eckwarden is shown below.

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Weather data courtesy of Oliver König of Windfinder.com

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Winds around the time concerned of 12:00 to approximately 1:30 pm, ranged between 25 and 44 kts. An onsite estimate of the winds at Eckwarden of 30 to 40 kts. averaging 35 to 38 kts. was provided by the man that was an eyewitness. The launch of Eckwarden is preferred for kiteboarding for southerly winds as the jetty depicted below along with extensive shallows result in relatively calm water. As winds were almost directly onshore the water was choppy with .5 m (roughly 1.5 ft.) waves. Eckwarden is stated to be a poor and dangerous kiteboarding launch in westerly, onshore winds.

A view of Eckwarden from the NW is shown below at low tide. Note the jetty extending off frame to the right and the revetment (or amored asphalt covered rocks to protect the shoreline) and dike extending off to the left. A lighthouse appears in the center of the frame.

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Image from: http://www.leuchtturm-atlas.de/PIC/Eckwar007.jpg

A closer view of the revetment and dike in nearby Eckwarder-Home situated to the south and east of Eckwarden appears below at a normal low tide.

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Image from: http://www.sonneundnordsee.de/

The source for much of this account was both an eyewitness and active participant in the attempted avoidance and ultimately, the resolution of this sad accident. For purposes of this account this man will be referred to as the Samaritan (as in Good Samaritan). This man who is also an active kiteboarder, had been windsurfing, sometimes with difficulty with a 4 m sail. Other kiteboarders were present but opted to not kite given the violent, unstable weather and went windsurfing instead resulting in a total number of about 15 windsurfers.

At one point the Samaritan noticed three kiteboarders attempting to launch a kite. He walked over to take a closer look and was amazed to see that these men were planning on launching a 12 m EH Cabarete kite in unsuitably strong, gusty wind conditions. The Samaritan along with the other local riders had made a firm decision not to kiteboard in these adverse conditions but when I asked, he said that if he “HADâ€


Last edited by RickI on Thu Mar 25, 2004 5:44 am, edited 4 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 24, 2004 3:20 pm 
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This avoidable accident was largely brought on by the failure to understand or appreciate the hazards present. This failure was further compounded by ignoring good, well intended and informed advice by the Samaritan. The significance of the abortive effort with the 12 m kite was apparently lost on the three kiteboarders. Several conclusions come to mind based upon the circumstances of this accident as reported to me and are discussed below. The conclusion of all of this is that no one should have launched to kiteboard at Eckwarden in those hazardous conditions. Some of the following comments are provided with less hazardous but still strong wind conditions in mind and are not provided to support launching in such extreme conditions as were present on that day.

1. Always check weather forecasts, weather radar if available along with current wind and patterns to verify that hazardous, unstable weather isn't present or pending during your session. If in doubt, talk to more experienced kiteboarders with a reputation for careful judgment. Ask other riders what size kites they are flying and how they are doing with their selections. If no one else is kiteboarding, that is an answer in itself. Refer to the manufacturers wind range table for your kite to verify that you are in the acceptable range if in doubt. Try to rig for the the lower to mid range for a kite and avoid going out overpowered. Be AWARE and plan for early and late kiteboarding season hazards. Our accident experience at the start and end of the season has not been good, so forwarned is forearmed.

2. Carefully evaluate current and forecast weather, your experience, gear and launch characteristics while carefully deciding IF, where, with what and when you plan to kiteboard.

3. ALWAYS carefully listen to and consider local and more experienced advice about conditions. If opinions aren't offered it would be wise to seek them out before rigging up to launch. TOO MANY riders have been needlessly injured by ignoring well intended advice from local kiteboarders. The words "I can handle it" or terms to that effect are commonly uttered by the soon to be accident victim in some of these cases. If you need to give advice to riders, bring your friends along, their presence will help to support the message and they have something to potentially lose in this as well (Access). There is a good chance that if you are reading this, that you are not the most likely person to place yourself into the way of such hazards, i.e. 'preaching to the chior." Still, we are all in this together so consider how to best communicate the realities of this sport IF you find yourself in a position to do so.

4. WHEN IN DOUBT, DON'T GO OUT or LIVE TO KITE ANOTHER DAY. No session is worth your life, particularly if the obvious hazards are stacked up before you. Your decisions effect more than just yourself so don't be selfish. One of the guys helping the rider might have been injured or perhaps a bystander or even rescue personnel. Ultimately, accidents like this threaten access for us all. Then there is the impact of such a tragic loss on family and friends that can last for a very long time.

5. Avoid onshore winds and launches which place you within 100 m (300 ft.), ideally of downwind hard objects. The nearby dike is an uplift lofting hazard. A fatality occurred in the Netherlands years ago following the uplift lofting of a new kiteboarder.

6. Carefully consider your proposed launch and if a better, safer one is in the area, take the extra time to go there. I am not certain if launch conditions are much more suitable but in LESS hazardous west wind conditions the riders might have walked around the corner to the Eckwarder area where the winds are side shore.

7. WEAR SAFETY GEAR including a good helmet, impact vest, gloves, hook knife, etc.. This is yet one more fatality in which a helmet MIGHT have reduce injury and improved the chances for survival. No helmet means no possible benefit whatsoever. Preflight your gear in a careful, methodical way. Preflighting several times in high wind conditions should be normal procedure. Rig your gear with polar or "kook proof" connectors. MAKE SURE that your chicken loop quick release mechanism and kite leash are well maintained, work and can be found almost without thought very rapidly. It is not know if the accident victim tried to depower or even if he had enough time to react before impact.

8. Try to KEEP IT LOW & GO. That is launch with your kite close to the water and out of lofting position overhead. If you are hit by an overwhelming gust, you MIGHT be dragged instead of lofted. You can still be badly injured and even killed by dragging but at least IF you depower your kite quickly you are still on the ground. Given the overpowered conditions keeping the kite low might have resulted in a dragging injury almost as rapidly as the overhead lofting position did. Alternatively, small control input errors can be substantially amplified in strong conditions which could still result in a lofting EVEN if it was attempted to keep the kite low. So in this case and in other instances of unstable weather the answer is simple, don't launch in the first place.

9. Give careful consideration to the ideas presented at the following link. They are largely derived from analysis of accidents that have happened for years, that is how to try to avoid future repetitions.

http://www.kiteforum.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=2300704

The lure of "extreme acts" potentially amplified by severe conditions can be overwhelming to some. To sucumb to this lure without fundamental appreciation of the hazards involved and suitable preparation and experience to improve the odds of the encounter is a very poor risk. This is akin to driving very close behind another car in blinding rain at high speed, or skiing off-pieste in avalanche and/or crevasse terrain without much of a clue, or running on ice with a large knife in your hand. Some activities are doomed with a much higher probability of tragic failure. Such failure will not always occur, only more of the time, sometimes much more. It is an avoidable waste but people are sometimes motivated to do this anyway as many of these avoidable accidents support. Remember, your choices can effect FAR more people than just yourself, like it or not.

The Good Samaritan that provided this account said that he can't find words to explain this accident. He felt that an accident was inevidable under the severe conditions. He further said that we need to learn how to effectively communicate to people that we are on their side when giving advice and that we need to stay together particularly on such critical issues. ** We should discuss this question among ourselves and try to come up with some effective answers. When it comes to Safety & Sustainability of this sport, we are all in this together. If other information is available please send it to me via PM or email to <flkitesurfer@hotmail.com>. Comments and content may be added to this account over the next day or so.


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