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Mid June, 1997 Flight from Santa Barbara to the Pitchess Detention Center (Jail) across I-5
[SD's Article]  [Track Image]  [AP Article 1]  [AP Article 2]

Sundowner's Flight Report
Paraglider Lands in Jail

Distance ~ 63 miles

No log entry for this flight, but it still ranks top billing on a Google search 17 years later.  It was in mid June 1997.  I was teaching paragliding back then and engaged in some form of PG activity most days, so I didn't log my personal flights during that stretch because there were too many.  I'm making this notation in May of 2014, so after 17 years, my memory is fuzzy.  My recollection is:

It was a post frontal day in June, which is quite unusual for June.  Pre internet weather, but we had Debbie, a dial up station on top of the La Cumbre Peak lookout tower that provided wind velocity and direction plus temperature.  It was a weekday.  I rarely got to fly open distance on a weekend because I was usually assisting other pilots and students.  I had a court date that morning.  Can't remember what for.  97 was a busy year.  I got married in April during the middle of the Skyport construction conflict.  A Santa Barbara City Parks ranger issued me a citation for on-going introductory canopy training at the Chase Palm Park soccer field, which was escalated to a misdemeanor complaint by the city DA as retaliation... (my arrogance?) (the city lost their jury trial and the Judge's ruling was skeptical of the application of an existing city ordinance to paragliding activity, so the city was motivated to engage in discussion with the flying community to draft guidelines for landing at the beach).  The city sued me to pay for work they had a contractor do to complete their "un-improvement" of the Skyport.  I also crashed at Walt's Point (failed reserve deployment) and suffered a compression fracture of my lumbar vertebra.  Anyway, I got up to launch after my court hearing and was airborne around noonish before the post frontal west wind swept through.

Don't recall many details about the flight, but Dane Jacobson heard me on the radio and offered to chase in his small pickup truck.  I think I may have gone to Modelo Peak (just west of the Lake P:iru Dam) and had to get on the speed bar to penetrate out, but not certain if that move was during the this flight or another one past I-5.  I do remember getting to about 5 or 6K east of Piru and went on glide.  Retrieve is an issue east of I-5, so I angled for a canyon that had some development, possibly a business park, thinking there would be a retrievable road.

I didn't realize the development was the LA County Pitchess Detention Center, which was composed of numerous facilities ranging from an honor farm to a maximum security facility.  I was down to about a thousand AGL entering the canyon and grew concerned about all the fencing, then I overflew the maximum security facility with several hundred AGL and realized I may not have committed to a retrievable canyon.  It was obvious that the maximum security facility was some kind of jail or prison, so I overflew it, but the canyon was a dead end and I didn't want to cross another set of fencing into a field that had an oil well thinking I may not be welcome.

Even though I realized I was in the "wrong" canyon, I though I was OK because I was landing in a field behind the maximum security facility.  Unbeknownst to me was that the maximum security facility had a rare escape about a week ago, so they were on higher alert.  I also didn't realize that I had flown over the SWAT team practicing on the weapons range about a half a mile away.  It took them a few of minutes to reach me after touchdown.  I was getting out of my gear when they rolled up and deployed from their vehicle.  They pointed a dozen guns my way and ordered me to "get on the ground".  I raised my hands and responded that "it's ok" but they insisted that I immediately get on the ground face down, so I complied.

The next half hour was a bit comical.  I explained that I had launched in Santa Barbara and flown up the canyon because I could see buildings from the distance.  The SWAT commander relayed his perception over the radio and a facility officials arrived.  I repeated my story several times, each iteration to a higher ranking official.  Finally someone with enough horsepower arrived and evaluated my tale.  He looked around and realized that 25 of his personnel were standing by so I was consuming his resources.  I apologized for the intrusion, and he told his troops to get back to work and had someone take me to the main gate, where Dane was waiting in his typical safety mined state.

The news wire picked up the radio chatter and I was flooded with calls for interviews.  Sort of a fun filler on a slow news day.  My brother read about it in a Tokyo newspaper, and my wife's (Pam's) father in Boston also saw it in his local paper, along with my parents in Florida.

I think the flight was a new PG open distance record for Santa Barbara at the time (but that flight has been eclipsed by longer flights).

Click image below for full HD size
The launch and landing locations are accurate, but the track is a guess based on what I think the route would have been.

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