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Incident Report postings from John Fletcher's injury at The Grade (in order of posting time stamp)
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John Fletcher Incident Report
Submitted by Chip Bartley on 7/29/06
Incident Date: Tuesday, July 25th, 2006
After contemplation, I have decided to post what will be my accident report submitted to USHGA. I hope this eyewitness account helps someone to be a better pilot. It certainly has deeply impacted not only my flying but entire life's outlook. I have been to the hospital twice since the accident and John is doing surprisingly well. His prognosis is good.
My name is Chip Bartley and I am a P2 pilot with 34 logged hours including 4 hours at the location of the incident. On Tuesday, 25-July-06, John Fletcher and I decided to fly the Conejo Grade Mountain. This site is unrated and the launch is at approximately 850í. It is a site that has ridge and thermal lift. On this particular day, the wind was 240 @ 9. I had just met John that day for the first time in Santa Barbara at Elings Field (local flight park / training hill). My understanding is that John is a new P2 pilot and had flown the Conejo site before.
At about 16:15 after hiking 40 minutes we reached the #3 Launch site at Conejo Mountain in Ventura County. John had asked to launch first and seemed anxious to get on with it. After a few minutes, John spread his wing and positioned himself at the launch. He was set-up for a right turn launch. I mentioned that it would be a good idea to take our time and watch the cycles for a while. After saying that, I turned away from John to start unpacking my gear. I was to the right of the launch looking down.
Within 15 seconds of turning away from john, I heard his wing load and immediately turned to see John's launch. As I turned around I observed John's wing moving overhead and centered. John then proceeded to turn to the LEFT rather than right as he had set up. When John turned left he simultaneously started moving down the mountain and was lifted off the ground. As he was lifted his risers spun to the right to correct themselves and it seemed that John lost his bearing and dropped his right break. His left break was still in his hand and engaged. John was disoriented and off balance. He and his wing quickly flew down the hill approximately 80í to 100í feet toward the left. About ĺ the way to where he ended up, he let the pressure off his left brake and the wing began to recover. As the wing began to soften its angle of attack it slowed and lifted. This created a pendulum effect with John in his harness and he was propelled violently into a huge boulder.
As a result, he was unconscious and in a very precarious location on the side of the mountain. I immediately started a descent to reach John to assess the situation. I was trying to raise him on the radio as well as yelling his name without a positive result. I was fearful he was dead. When I was about 2/3 the ways down the Mountain, I saw John move and he was calling out to me. At that time I called 911 and reported the situation. They stayed on the phone as I continued my descent to Johnís location. When I reached John I observed his arm that was clearly fractured. His pupils where dilated and he seemed disoriented. Concerned that John had sustained neck and back injury I used what I could to make him comfortable and hold him in place. At that point I administered first aid and tried to stabilize John on the side of the mountain to prevent any further injury. I let John know his situation and told him that help was on the way and to stay still until they arrived.
After a 20 to 30 minute wait the 911 operator called me back and asked our exact position, I gave her our coordinates and the Ventura Count Sheriff's Rescue Helicopter Team was above us almost immediately. They where very careful as they approached and observed John's wing draped over the huge boulder above us. In order for the chopper to get close enough, the wing needed to be collected. The air crew was worried that the wing could be sucked up in the rotors and make this bad situation worse. They asked me to clear the wing, so I climbed the 12 foot rock to cut the wing away. As I reached the top of the boulder I was surprisingly met by a rattle snake. I found a stick and knocked the snake away.
The rescue team was deployed about 100 yards to the south of our location on the side of the mountain. The rescuers traversed across the steep terrain and arrived at our location with there equipment. They immediately went to work and made a very accurate assessment of the situation. The air crew asked for my help in maintaining Johnís alignment while he was rolled over on the back board and strapped in securely. When Johnís legs where exposed it became apparent that both legs where massively injured. They then started an IV to hydrate John and prepared him for transport. Within 30 to 40 minutes John was secured and on his way to Los Robles Hospital.
Johns injuries included, multiple compound fractures of both legs, fractured feet, ankles, pelvis, hips, ribs, right arm, light head trauma and his lungs where bruised badly. After the rescue team left I gathered and inventoried our gear. The helicopter returned in 30 minutes and took me to the LZ.