This rider was incredibly lucky to have come through a flight about 100 ft. in height, over a horizontal distance of over 800 ft. moving at a speed over ground estimated to be on the order of 35 kts. plus, alive and largely uninjured.
The boost in wind speed from 15 kts. to over 50 kts. equates to over ten times the lifting kite power. So if 15 kts. could easily lift this 70 kg. rider, the reality of what 50 kts. could do is astonishing. This rider was lofted by another squall in Europe almost two years ago into a rough landing on the beach.
Another rider at Kitebeach in Cabarete reportedly was lofted into a palm tree and was left hanging on to the tree when he lost his kite. Three other kiteboarders lost their kites, which ended up hanging in two trees and one power line. I was told that no white caps or other surface disturbance signs were noted in advance of the storm cloud. Those that were looking for changing sea conditions and thought "no strong wind was coming", were sadly proved to be very wrong in this case.
Finally, on a very serious note, two girls were admitted to the hospital at the same time as this rider. They had been out parasailing off Puerto Plata about 15 miles to the west when the squall hit. One girl was reportedly killed and the other paralyzed. Violent squall winds are a serious hazard to more than just kiteboarders.
The conventional wisdom on how to avoid lofting is to keep your kite low while near hard objects. If you are caught in a powerful wind gust this technique may do little to help you avoid injury. Apparently in this case either the very high wind speed and/or perhaps inadvertent control bar inputs sent the kite flying up from the ground fully into the power zone. With lower gusts it is expected that violent dragging would occur. Not in this case. Dragging could have easily caused serious injury or death considering the wind speed and associated kite force. Logic dictates that the only proper, reasonably safe way to deal with this situation would be to never be in it in the first place. If squalls are coming, land your kite very soon. Squalls of this level of violence can occur in various parts of the Caribbean and SE USA particularly during the warmer months. They may also be reasonably common in many other parts of the world. If you see a squall coming in, you have no idea whether the wind will die, reverse, boost 5 kts. or 50 kts. or all of the above.
I am reminded of a story about Luftwaffe glider pilots trying to learn about conditions inside cumulonimbus storm clouds just prior to WWII. Of the original group of 35 pilots I recall that two survived interacting with the incredible violence inside these clouds. Some things are best left alone. Other kiteboarders have been injured by squall winds in several other accounts in this section. Threatening incoming storm clouds and squalls should be avoided by kiteboarders at all costs.
The squall that caused this lofting was recently identified as resembling a shelf cloud. Several of these were seen around Florida during the recent passage of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. Some kiteboarders may have been hit by strong gusts into the 40 to 50 kt. range when the clouds passed over. Shelf clouds are also seen not that uncommonly at other times of the year in various parts of the world. The first two photos were taken in Florida in the last year.
A shelf cloud off the Florida Panhandle with the passing of Hurricane Dennis.
This actually looks like it might be a "wall cloud." These clouds though similar in some ways to shelf clouds are also associated with violent weather including tornados.
Shelf clouds are associatied with gust fronts the passage of which passage is noted by:
* calm winds
* then (sometimes excessively) gusty winds and a temp drop
* then rain
Question: If you saw one of these coming your way, you'd land, right? Just make sure you land well in time to have everything secured before it hits.
More about severe weather at:
http://apollo.lsc.vsc.edu/classes/met13 ... index.html
Ideas about weather planning and monitoring for kiteboarding appear at: