APPLEGATE VALLEY — Though it sounds counterintuitive, the higher the altitude reached by a paraglider, the safer the flight.
This is according to veteran paraglider Stephan Haase, of Lake Tahoe, who is spending the weekend in the Applegate Valley competing in Rat Race, an annual paragliding competition at Woodrat Mountain near Ruch.
"Our motto is get high, stay high," Haase said. "Some people might have trouble making sense of that, but anyone who has been involved in this sport for any time at all knows it's true."
The increased height gives a paraglider more time to react to equipment failure such as a folded wing. This could give the pilot a few more seconds to take action, such as deploying a backup parachute.
"When you're up there, every second counts," Haase said. "Sure there's risk involved with any sport, but paragliding is relatively safe. It all depends on not taking unnecessary risks."
According to statistics collected by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, three people in the United States died in paragliding accidents in 2009.
The report said this translates into one fatality per 1,000 paragliders registered with the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
Applegate Valley Fire District Captain Greg Gilbert said he does not recall ever responding to a paragliding death in Southern Oregon.
"We don't have any record of that happening," Gilbert said. "We do see about three or four accidents per year."
According to Mail Tribune records dating back to 1996, the closest paragliding death to Southern Oregon occurred near Mount Shasta nearly 14 years ago.
This year has not strayed from the norm, Gilbert said.
"We've had three (crashes) so far," he said. "A couple of them suffered fairly serious injuries, but nothing life-threatening."
On Wednesday, a Texas man who took off from Woodrat Mountain crashed down a cliff and had to be flown to the hospital on a Mercy Flights helicopter. He suffered four broken ribs and a broken ankle.
Earlier this spring another paraglider was injured when his wing became snagged on a powerline, catching the rig on fire, Gilbert said.
The man was released from the hospital after being treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Gilbert said most paragliders practice safe flying habits. The only issue comes from the more extreme gliders.
"We don't encourage anyone doing the high-risk maneuvers," Gilbert said. "Sometimes it's a challenge even getting to where they crash if it's high on a cliff or up a tree. We've had to use rope teams to rescue them before."
Haase said the majority of paragliders he's seen on Woodrat Mountain are pro-caliber flyers who practice safe habits, such as wearing helmets and cruising at safe altitudes.
Woodrat Mountain flyers normally glide around 7,500 feet above sea level.
"That's the perfect altitude for this area," he said. "It is very tranquil up there."
Haase praised Applegate Valley residents for being very welcoming toward the paragliders.
"When we land in their fields, they usually come out and offer us something to drink and ask us if we need a ride. This is a great community."
Haase said the 150 paragliders who descend on Woodrat Mountain each June provide a bump to the region's economy, which is even more welcome this year as the country climbs out of the recession.
"There's around 150 of us who eat at local businesses and shop in the towns," Haase said. "And we'll keep coming back because this area is so accommodating."
Haase chalks paragliding safety up to each individual flyer.
"If you pair this sport with good judgment you will have a long, great flying career," he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.