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SPANNERS,BANNERS and FLAGS | ARRESTED | DIVING IN ZANZIBAR | EXTREME EXHAUST | THE DAY I DETATCHED MY FOOT


SPANNERS,BANNERS and FLAGS
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This next incident I have briefly included as I now find I quite amusing, although at the time it could have been a rather nasty. We had been experimenting with banner towing on our paramotors for a while now, as this was a cheaper alternative for clients than branding separate wings. The problem that kept arising was that one side of the flag kept folding in whilst in tow. To alleviate this minor set back we figured a weight hanging off the rear corner was in order. As we were now in the field, the only heavy object that was available was a number 34 spanner. For those of you not aware of spanner sizes, this is a rather large and solid chunk of hardened steel. This was duly attached to the lower end of the flag and towing attempted again. Take off was accomplished by the flag either being rolled up and placed in a pocket and once airborne, dropped below, else it was laid out behind where it automatically inflated as the glider was pulled up. (Banners may also be attached to the trailing (rear) edge of the glider). Once in the air I dropped the flag and looking back was delighted to see that it was flying almost symmetrically. Figuring that it was now time to show off our new prototype, I entered a tight powered turn, which throws the wing due to the centripetal force into a quite spectacular bank with the pilot sitting almost on the same horizontal plane as the top of the wing. As one initiates the turn a fair amount of height is lost until the wing starts to regain the required airspeed once more. Completing the 360 turn, I was amazed that almost everyone close to me was prostrate on the sand, with my mate wildly gesticulating and holding his head in what seemed to be utter panic.

Those spectators further away seemed to be in various stages of unrest and far from the serene and tranquil images one associates with family outings to the beach. I had forgotten that the spanner was now hanging another metre below the bottom of the engine set up, which now resulted in it entering a suicidal ark as it was spun outwards with each turn in a death defying vengeance. It had come within inches of decapitating a beach walker who was still mindlessly ambling along, ignorant of how close he had come to death, and wondering what on earth everyone was doing face down on mother earth. After this little episode we placed the spanner into retirement and opted for a diving weight instead. As you will see in the next article during the early research and development stages, that guardian angel certainly had its work cut out again

All these stories and more available on CD from SkyTribe.


ARRESTED
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While in the vicinity of the African Equator, here is a story that materialised along similar latitudes, however closer to the madness associated with this continent. My self and a fellow pilot were attempting to fly our powered paragliders from the base of Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain in Africa), back down south into South Africa (a few thousand kilometres). Our back up vehicle was a sponsored fiat uno, and of those of you that are aware of the logistics in Africa, you will be aware that some pot holes are way bigger than our tiny vehicle and trailer! Arriving in what we were later told was the small Serengeti national park, we found the only open piece of flat ground, and started to lie out our gear. A slight problem soon materialised in that this vlei happened to be ankle deep in water, however we managed to drape the wings over the taller ground cover extending out from the marsh. This was going to be one hell of a take off, with no wind, running in marsh water with lots of tall trees around us and a herd of nervous looking buffalo slightly behind us. (There are many parts in Africa that host wild life, however are not classified as official national parks. Rules and regulations appear and disappear on this continent when and how it suits the relevant authorities best). We figured that if however this was a national park, there should have been some indication and if push came to shove we would tell them we had made an emergence landing (which you are allowed to do in aviation circles, and were simply taking off again). Africa is renown for its capitalisation on anything that has the potential to extort money, goods or anything else lacking at that precise moment. This activity was in the middle of the bush, with very little signs of civilisation around, however out of nowhere arrived the parks department, which soon was followed up by the police and later the military.

Typical questions followed suite, such as'' "what are you doing?'- We taking off. "You not allowed to"- why not, we had engine problems. "This is a park, these machines are not allowed"-well where does it say that, do you even know what they are? This continued for a while until I informed him we had clearance to fly through Tanzania's air space (which we did), 'But not in here he answered". This discussion was stagnating with neither side backing down, hence we were marched off to a bush camp and placed under armed guard while more senior personal were being summoned to deal with the situation. Our back up driver happened to be a fat lazy ex South African military colonel of some type, who was told to wait by the car while we were being detained. After about four hours of waiting I had had enough, and informed my partner that I was leaving, simply walking out of this camp back to the car and getting the hell out of Tanzania as fast as possible. He was welcome to come along. This reopened frantic radio correspondence with head quarters with us being informed that back up was only minutes away. We were marched back to the road, again under armed guard where a posse of high profile looking vehicles was waiting for us. These were the big knobs, and who were looking most disgruntled for being awoken at this unearthly hour of the night.

Using the expected form of initial intimidation we were told they were going to lock us up until a court hearing a few days later. Knowing that everything in Africa is negotiable, leaving in most instances an escape route, and, as with part of any psychological 'warfare' which involves not immediately showing fear or weakness to proposed threats, yet maintaining courtesy, I seconded this motion that we be locked up as we hadn't done anything wrong, of which our driver nearly had a coronary. "That's fine I said, tomorrow we phone our embassy and they will secure our release, you could be in trouble!" This placed them now in a position of bureaucratic indecisiveness (although not showing it). Ideally it was in their own interest to settle this now, walk away with the usual bribe, or run the risk of not receiving anything and possibly release us free. If they had opted for the latter this could in these circumstance be re negotiated and therefore plan B certainly existed. A few hours later, now well after midnight we arrived at an acceptable fee, whereupon we were given an honouree escort back to the main road, and hence began "The African powered paragliding expedition". A shortened version is posted on my web site under 'various adventures'.

All these stories and more available on CD from SkyTribe.


DIVING IN ZANZIBAR
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One of my closest encounters with death, and one of the very few times I felt my self on my way out was during a deep dive off the northern tip of this island. When diving with compressed air as in scuba, you have a set of tables to follow. These tables document the amount of time one may stay underwater, without toxicity from the oxygen in the compressed air and the narcotic effects of nitrogen as one descends. (This narcotic effect from nitrogen has been responsible for some quite bizzar behaviour from divers. Some just sit and laugh, some contemplate life while others have been known to offer their regulator and air to various creatures!) Secondly tables allow the diver to safely come back to the surface without any adverse effects from the nitrogen bubbles that have collected in your tissues, and which now are expanding as you ascend (due to the drop in pressure as one rises), and working their way out of the body. The longer the diver stays under water and the deeper he or she descends, the more toxic the oxygen in the air becomes, which eventually will result in seizures, paralysis and death. Secondly the deeper one dives on normal compressed air (in comparison to mixed gas, where the quantities of oxygen and nitrogen are minimized and often replaced with mixed gasses such as helium), the more the narcotic effects that nitrogen exhibits, are experienced. Thirdly the more nitrogen is absorbed (from diving deep), and which being an inert (plays no part in body metabolism) gas, must therefore 'bubble' out of the divers body on the ascent. Too many bubbles and too big a bubble from a fast ascent will result in an embolism where it lodges in the joint, brain, heart or other vital organ, and again death or if you lucky extreme pain (the bends). Now that you have had a brief lecture on the physiology of diving let me explain to you what happened.

With my job dictating I was diving every day, and up to three times a day, ones body becomes accustomed to the adverse effects of both nitrogen and oxygen, with us regularly diving to 50-65 metres in depth. Conventional diving tables usually list a safe maximum limit of 30- 40 metres as the safe lower limit, and like most listings, I believe there certainly is a big safety margin built into it. On this eventful day a fellow diver and myself had planned a dive to around 70 metres, and with a spare cylinder tucked under our arms, down we went. Familiarity certainly breeds content as we continued down wards and not really checking our descent rate. Hitting the 75-metre mark was where the effects of nitrogen quickly became apparent. Suddenly and within a split second I felt myself passing out. For those of you that have ever been under anaesthetic, it was the same feeling as being put to sleep. A really great feeling but at the most inappropriate time and place. All I knew that if something was not done quickly, I would be unconscious and drown within seconds. I remember hitting the inflate button on my buoyancy jacket to try and arrest my descent and take me back up where the effects of nitrogen would be lessened by the reduction of water pressure. This in it's self is potentially life threatening, due to the air inside the jacket now expanding, resulting in a 'run away ascent' and nitrogen bubbles expanding beyond the safe limit and or lung damage from air volume increasing inside the lungs. I must have briefly passed out and gained consciousness a few seconds later at around 65 metres, which was sufficient to minimise the adverse effects of nitrogen narcosis (commonly called 'rapture of the deep'). Luckily I had been diving with a dive computer, which was now flashing SOS, however still giving me a recommended ascent rate and decompression stops, to allow excess nitrogen to leave the body before continuing upwards. On reaching the surface I immediately lay still for a few hours in order to limit metabolic activity (another contributing factor to 'the bends'), while drinking copious quantities of water. The nearest decompression chamber was on the mainland at the port of Mombassa in Kenya, a good days travel away. One simply lay there while the excess nitrogen worked it's way out of the body, while at the same time expecting those tell tale signs of 'the bends' to surface. (I have experienced this ailment, and on one occasion so severe that simply breathing was near impossible. The bubble had obviously lodged in part of the lung or muscles associated with respiration, and thus caused excruciating pain with each breath. This stemmed from a search and recovery course I was running where one of the students overfilled the lift bag, forgot to vent the air as it rose and hung on to the ascending bag. To prevent a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, I hung onto the student while attempting to free her from the bag. We were dragged upwards for a distance before freeing the bag, and obviously this sudden reduction in pressure was enough to over expand a few bubbles). Both of us were bent for quite a number of days).

Back on the dive boat, a local dhow converted for dive operation, we were making progress back to shore when the engines decided suddenly to pack up (a common occurrence in Africa), hence the reasons we carried sails. These were hoisted and our journey resumed again, only to be interrupted once again by the sail tearing lose from the rigging. So here we were in the middle of the ocean with no means of continuation, and a boatload of clients. I thought to my self at this stage, what would have happened if either one of us had experienced the bends. If we had and it was life threatening we surely would have expired. As we had a radio and were able to eventually summon help, we eventually vacated the last client from the boat at around 1am, in pitch darkness and pouring rain while being ferried to shore in what resembled a tin toy dinghy. We the crew swam the few kilometres to shore the next morning as I had a plain to catch later in the day back to South Africa.

During my days off I used to go and dive with a group of "poachers", if they could be called that. In Africa the term "illegal" is a subjective word. Is something illegal because the rest of the world deems a certain activity out of bounds, yet may be practiced and sanctioned under the auspices of the present government. Who decides weather a certain activity should be banned or not? Try telling a starving man he can't collect a certain commodity when his family is hungry because of a worldwide scarcity. The problem arises in that any activity may be condoned with enough money in Africa. Sea cumber diving has developed into a lucrative multi million dollar trade up the entire east coast of Africa. These sea creatures resemble sea slugs and can be found lying about the ocean floor at various depths. When disturbed they ooze their intestines out in a sticky liquid. Many an unsuspecting student has been caught by shaking the creature and quickly before it has time to expel it's contents, hand it to an apprentice, which in no time has a slime stickier than super glue over his or her appendage. These sea cucumbers are dried and then exported to the East for a variety of medicinal and other purposes. Diving with these poachers defies all diving laws and certainly shows that an incredible immunity to various under water ailments may be attained. Either this was possible or they quietly went off and died without anyone being aware of the causes. Although many of them were bent on numerous dives, they continued their plunder of the deep. They used no buoyancy vests, used rocks as weight belts, some had no depth or pressure gauges, they used no snorkels and some had no fins. They had absolutely no idea of any diving related injuries. They desecrated corel's, shells and fish alike. Anything that was in killing distance was taken. The diving depth made no difference to any of them and for many the dive time terminated only when their air ran out.

Because of the scarcity of these ocean slugs we would have to travel out to sea for up to three hours in one of their home built wooden boats. Each of the divers had up to five full diving cylinders and would exhaust each one, have a smoke break between changing over and commence diving again. At the end of my second dive with them, my dive computer was showing danger levels of nitrogen saturation for the time and depth we had been diving at and was recommending no more diving for the next two hours. They were planning another three deep dives with only about five to ten minutes between each. I took the liberty of attaching my computer to the arm of one of them for these remaining dives. The resultant recommendations it gave for safe continued existence was astronomical, and certainly no where within their realms of diving practices. This really was an experience that would go down in my diving archives.

Fishing with dynamite is another common occurrence along the African coastline and areas up near Asia. On numerous occasions I would be under water with a group of students when an almighty blast could be felt under water. Cautiously surfacing one would find ones self surrounded by fishing boats, nets and dead and stunned fish amidst the smell of cordite. On more than one instance an anchor has been dropped from a local fishing boat unaware of my diving buoy on the surface, narrowly missing me on the bottom and smashing into pristine coral formations. This unfortunately is life and the reality of Africa.

All these stories and more available on CD from SkyTribe.


EXTREME EXHAUST
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One of my first advertising contracts was for the well-known cigarette group Gunston. This brand had sponsored the world-renowned surfing event

"The Gunston 500", which became a household name in Durban South Africa for 30 years when suddenly they were informed due to the ban on smoking advertising that they were no longer welcome. Rather preposterous when you take into account the annual revenue generated by this event and the numerous other vices in life, which are probably far worse, that a bit of cigarette smoke. We had come up with a rather unique method of promoting various companies. The idea was to strap an engine and propeller on ones back and attach this to a large parachute with the clients name on and fly over stadiums and various events (for a fee of course) as a form of advertising.

My job was to fly just off the shoulders of a number of jet skis as we proceeded in from behind the breakers out at sea. (In those days there was no such thought regarding safety margins such as gliding distances back to shore should the engine die while out at sea). Being stressed already from having engine problems with our home made paramotor on the first day of the beach festival, I had forgotten to check that my exhaust was secured, and out to sea I flew. I had no quick releases on my harness, and had instruments that were secured to my leg and harness at the same time, effectively locking me to the set up. On reaching the beach I noticed I was receiving more than my usual amount of attention, with virtually every flat window hosting what I thought was a friendly waving tenant. So I flew closer and waved back. What had transpired was that half way back to shore my exhaust had fallen off and disintegrated half my prop. How it kept running I have no idea. The engine was a high revving design, which combined with a few holes in the exhaust, had resulted in my being accustomed to loud flights and thus I had not realised three quarters of the actual pipe was absent. The spectators on the beach and in the flats were obviously waving abuse at me due to the excessive noise factor, which I reciprocated with a friendly wave back. (Take the exhaust off a high revving go-cart, place it by your ear, rev it full for an extended period of time and understand how traumatic it can become).

Looking back, my concern here is how close I really came to dying. If the exhaust had damaged slightly more of my prop to inhibit enough thrust to sustain flight, I would have hit the waves and sunk. There would have been no way to exit my harness and accessories, and I would have hung four or five meters under my inflated canopy on the surface. Looking at the positive side, my sponsors could not have asked for better publicity. Having their name and logo on my canopy, forced everybody to view this branding as they waved, shouted abuse and performed every other antic against this vile form of noise contamination.

All these stories and more available on CD from SkyTribe.


THE DAY I DETATCHED MY FOOT
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The day that I detached my foot from my leg began with a new paraglider I was test flying. In retrospect this should have been done over water or sand, however this particular wing had been tested without the motorized counter part, with good results, so I figured it was more than likely ok. The minute however power is added, a pendulum action is set up, which has the potential ability to compound any small variances not experienced with non-powered flight. Over and above this I was flying a propeller set up I had just built for a friend, who happened to be present for it's maiden flight. On top of the hill were also a number of students, neighbours and fellow pilots. I clipped in, pulled up the wing, turned around and within a few steps was airborne. Everything felt good while I turned back towards take off in a fairly sharp one hundred and eighty degree turn, and then suddenly there was that unearthly feeling of the wing beginning to slide into a negative spin. What happens is that if a number of lines, especially the rear ones are shorter than usual, the glider is actually flying just off the stall speed (the attitude and speed of the wing where it will stop flying). When this angle is increased by one of many factors, such as adding power, either or both the wings will stop flying. If one side stops the other wing will fly around this stationary side, with the stopped side falling backwards in what is termed a negative spin. Various wings will react with varying degrees of violence to this manoeuvre, however the common factor is a great and rapid height loss. I happened to catch it before it entered a full spin, however this transition put the wing now into a 'parachutal stall'. The canopy is open and inflated however there is no aerodynamic airflow over the wing and the only direction one is flying is vertically down wards. (In this case faster than normal due to the extra weight of engine, propeller etc on my back). There was simply no time to rectify anything as I was about to hit the ground amongst a rockery of objects and what's worse, with the wind, making the impact velocity around fifty kph. The only thing left to try was apply full power (which in reality is not the method used to exit such a situation, however no other option was left) and try and 'drag' the wing away from the mountaintop, gain height and rectify the situation. This did not materialise and I remember thinking 'dam it, now I am going to have to fix this retched propeller again'. I remember seeing the ground coming up rather quickly and the next minute heard the prop break and suddenly I was back on the ground. Looking down I found it rather strange to be looking at the sole of my foot, with the actual foot a good 100mm`s away from where it should have been on the end of my leg. Very strange I thought, something certainly looks a bit cockeyed. Both tibia and fibula had broken with the tibia also dislocating from the joint inside the foot and violently ripping a hole through the side of my ankle where it exited.

X rays showing the breaks and dislocations- the circles are areas that normally should be joined together

This exposed bone was now firmly implanted in the earth, which had occurred as I attempted to stand up. My efforts to secure a camera to document this hopefully once in a life time experience were thwarted by bouts of nausea, vomiting and chain smoking spectators and my main regret today is that I never managed to document this occurrence. Failing to secure a helicopter to transport me to hospital, I was driven in the back of my van, while a mate was holding my detached foot to my leg, which was attempting to disjoint it's self with every bump we encountered. More painful was the fact that the entire bone was sticking out and now had the wind from the open back van blowing against it and although only half an hour to hospital, believe me it seemed like eternity. Arriving there required a further wait while they now splinted my foot (which required them to move it again) and x-rayed it. The pethadine that they gave me certainly did not seem to make any difference and my answer of 'gravity' to their question of 'any allergies' were met with stares of unearthly proportions.


A few weeks after skin graft, with surface bone visible. Area on upper leg where skin was "borrowed from"

Back on the hill, before anything else was decided, the proposal that a pub and alcohol was in dire need resulted in a procession into town to acquire copious quantities of this substance. Those left guarding the equipment simply had to wait while normality was restored and sanity regained. Well to cut a long story short, the puzzle was put back together, however the wound was left open for a week while I was fed massive doses of antibiotics to arrest the infection in the bone and surrounding tissue. Every second day I was back into theatre to remove the dressing and clean the wound, and seven days later a large piece of skin was taken off my upper leg and grafted over the wound to try and close it up. Miraculously the infection, which was now present around the pins in the bone, disappeared and the skin graft even took directly on the anklebone, which apparently in most graft case is fairly unusual. During these two weeks in hospital my mother, nearing eighty, would make this arduous trek religiously every day on here false leg, which is an incredible feat. I think my Dad unbeknown to all of us, was starting to suffer from heart failure, so to the best of his ability, he admirably attempted visits when he was up to it. Another person who religiously was at my bed side every day was a remarkable girlfriend, Avril Hattingh, who I would say managed and offered care far exceeding that rendered by the hospital staff (and bear in mind this was a private, upmarket hospital). Nearly three years later it still does not bend and is extremely painful to weight bear on, however I had my first flight four months after the accident, which required me to take of and land on the good leg and a helper or two to help collapse the wing, thereby preventing me from being dragged by the falling wing forwards. Sometimes I think it may be better for logistical and practical reasons to have it chopped off, a prosthetic leg attached, which will normalise my activities again and (a lamp holder made out of my lower leg, with the on off switch being one of my toes), but up until now, and I don't know for how much longer, its still on the end of my appendage.


<<A few weeks after skin graft, with surface bone visible

 

 


 

<<Area on upper leg where skin was "borrowed" from.

 

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