The accident, leaving the Worlds

The day after Robin’s accident we had a memorial for him at the crash site. We invited all pilots and crew from the Worlds to join us at sunset in the paddock. We marked the spot with the windsock that had the Norwegian flag, and put down flowers during a silent memorial. It was a very beautiful ceremony, in the right environment. I think everyone was out there with us to say goodbye to Robin. We have some pictures and video of the ceremony that I will put online when they are ready.

All the pilots and crew that we have talked to have supported and helped us in any way they can. The accident has really shaken everyone here and has sparked off many improvements in towing safety for this competition. The day after the accident was cancelled out of respect, and was used to work on safety and brief all the pilots.

The Norwegian team has withdrawn from the competition, from emotional, moral, and practical causes. Some of us will travel home as soon as possible, some will stay behind as planned and continue flying in other competitions in Australia.

There is an official investigation taking place by the Australian HG federation, it is not finished yet, and so we cannot conclude what was the cause of the accident. We have been presented with some preliminary findings, these have been reported with varying degree of accuracy by other sources. I write about this now, so you will have some picture of what happened. This is only my personal view, but I hope it will answer some of the questions and discussions that are bound to follow. Please wait for the official report for any conclusions.

Johnny, Otto, Nils Åge and I witnessed the whole accident from the ground. There is also video of the whole accident from takeoff to impact, this tape is held by the police, Johnny have seen it, and it confirms our view. From the information available from witnesses and video it seems that a lockout occurred at approximately 15 to 20 meters altitude during the tow, the glider crashed with the left wing and nose into the ground at high speed. Massive head injuries seemed to have caused instantaneous death. The paramedic was there very quickly, but nothing could be done.

The preliminary findings list pilot error as the first event, when Robin took off by footlaunch in weak crosswind, and dropped the left wing during the takeoff. He attempted to correct the left turn that followed, but never got the glider completely under control resulting in a lockout some seconds later.

The second event listed in the preliminary findings was the pilot weaklink that did not break, because it was too strong. The weaklink material was too strong, and did not break even as the rope and release wire attaching the release to the harness broke.

The third event listed in the preliminary findings was the pilot release mechanism that failed to release properly because of the wrong application of the weaklink to the release mechanism. The spinnaker type release he used is only safe when used with a large steel ring instead of hooking directly into the weaklink. It seems like Robin did pull the release, the release did open, but the weaklink stuck to the release because of the construction of the release, resulting into an extremely quick lockout. The video and our recollection of the event shows that he let go of the upright with his right arm to reach for the release just before the lockout occurred.

What is quite certain is that a chain of events caused the accident. As is the case in most accidents, all events may have been avoided and the accident prevented, but hindsight is a very precise science.

We had the correct weaklink material, and steel rings in the car. Robin had tied and was wearing new weaklinks from the correct material the same morning he crashed, why he did not use it we will never know.

Robin in his element
Robin in his element