Big Gusts 1

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What happened?

At about 5 pm, Monday a dark squall was moving in from the southeast into Ft. Lauderdale Beach, FL, USA. Visibility was about 2 to 3 miles with frequent rain showers and passing clouds. This particularly squall was lead by a zone of white water or intense rain showers. Squall lines had been clocked at traveling 60 mph or a mile a minute that day related to Fay. So, by the time the squall was seen, it might arrive in less than 3 minutes with powerful winds from the gust front perhaps arriving even before that. In effect faster than anyone might be able to come in and secure in some cases, you have no time.

Radar Closeup Aug 2008 1.jpg

Two kiteboarders in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA, had just landed on the beach and had their kites low waiting for guys to grab and secure their kites before a severe squall hit. The winds had been around 16 kts. with one of the two kiters underpowered on his 9 m kite at the time. They had come in to avoid the squall but arrived too late to escape its impact. While they were standing there squall winds exploded to 40 to 50 kts in seconds. Torrential rain also started.

The other kiter was standing about 20 ft. further north and just south and east of the SE corner of the wooden deck where the news cameraman was located. The kiter to the south kept yelling to the kiteboarder "keep your kite down" over and over again. Despite this sound advice, the northern kiter may have panicked perhaps when dragging started, as he suddenly brought his kite up from the horizontal initiating a lofting in the strong winds. Guys were likely seconds from grabbing his kite but it flew up and away from them. He was lofted a distance of about 100 ft. north in the southeasterly gust. He struck and was dragged through the sand and then lofted again as shown in the video. One observer said the speed of flight exceeded that which he has seen in high wind kiteloops. The kiterboarder flew roughly 275 ft. horizontally and about 20 to 25 ft. high over parked cars falling into A1A. This intermediate landing did not show up in the news video clip. He was lofted a third time about 40 ft. into an alley between a restaurant and mid rise condominium building. He was seen to hold on to his bar throughout the accident with both hands and made no attempt to Emergency Depower the kite. He struck the pavement and perhaps the south building wall of the condo.

Another kiter saw what happened and sprinted across the street in driving rain, poor visibility indicated in the video to aid the kiteboarder. The lofted kiter was lost to view so the responding man ran through the restaurant and around the building furiously trying to locate the lofted kiter. He found the man lying in the alley in seconds. The responding kiter immediately disconnected the man's quick release disconnecting his kite. The man was flying a 9 m flat kite. There was a tremendous quantity of blood around the man. He was unconscious but quivering. The man had two ragged holes in his knees, a bad laceration to his forehead, broken ribs and perhaps other undesignated injuries. He started to moan and come around but was delusional and started to say over and over again, "Let me go home, I don't want to kite anymore." He tried to get up with substantial strength while several first responders held him motionless in place. Emergency services were on the scene in force in an amazingly short period of time. The man is in his mid 20's, about 160 lbs. and has about 4 to 5 years kiteboarding experience and was self-taught.

Click here to watch the lofting video

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What can we learn?

  • Don't go out in onshore winds.
  • Never go out in a storm, or if strong gusts are forecasted.
  • The kiteboarder is amazingly lucky to be alive. Looking at the high velocity of his lofting and head first flight, likely impact against pavement and/or the building it is miraculous that he isn't far more grievously injured than reported. He wore no safety gear reportedly such as a helmet or impact vest that might ease the trauma of limited impacts. Such simple aids have made the difference in survival and lessening injuries in some kiteboarding loftings in the past. Despite this the, use of this simple safety gear is far from the norm currently. Helmets never were used at one time in football, these things take time unfortunately.
  • Responsible kiteboarders would not have been out in an area of such violent, abundant and closely spaced squalls. Unfortunately, in these early days of the sport not all participants acknowledge the severity of these hazards yet. They discount the hazard if they even consider it at all and every once in a while one is injured or sometimes even killed as a penalty for this indifference.
  • Such meteorological hazards are fairly easily avoided through proper Weather Planning and Monitoring. The odds of being surprised by powerful gusty wind is substantially diminished with such procedures. Risk isn't removed but when is that the case in life? Not doing proper Weather Planning and Monitoring in the face of changing weather is foolish in the extreme. It is akin to flying cross state in summer through major thunderstorms and never bothering to look at forecasts or radar. People just don't do it.
  • When you get lofted, there is nothing you can do while in the air...it is very important, to stay calm. You need to fly this gust, keep control of the kite. And just before you hit ground, you need to release, since you might break your arms or get unconscious. This is not possible, if you don't think about it before and have it in mind. But it is possible, if you keep thinking about this and get the system in your head. This is your only chance anyway.
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