‘Pilot error’ blamed for death of hang gliding passenger

A harness was not fastened before the take-off of a tandem hang glider resulting in the tragic death of passenger Lenami Godinez-Avila.

A young woman who fell to her death during her first tandem hang-gliding flight was not hooked into the glider before take-off, according to an investigation by the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada.

Lenami Godinez-Avila, 27, fell 1,000 feet to her death on April 28 shortly after take-off from the launch site at Mt. Woodside near Agassiz.

Pilot William (Jon) Orders landed safely, but was charged with obstruction of justice when police learned he swallowed a video chip from a camera onboard the glider that recorded the tragic flight.

Orders is scheduled to return to court for trial on April 15 next year.

Margit Nance, HPAC executive director, told The Progress that the investigator’s report deals only with the pre-flight actions of Orders, and has nothing to do with the post-flight period that is the subject of the obstruction charge.

She said the association will soon release recommendations on “what additional things (pilots) can do to strengthen our pre-flight checks.”

She said new safeguards are already in place, but added that hang-gliding pilots usually follow a checklist and double-check each other before a flight.

“We rely on each other as additional safeguards,” she explained.

One of the findings of HPAC accident investigator Martin Henry was that a second pilot was on the scene, which may have created “distractions” that led to the failure to hook Godinez-Avila into the glider.

“The investigation assumes that pilot distraction resulted in a failure to perform recommended standardized safety procedures,” Henry reported.

However, he added, the “unusual aspect” of a second pilot on the scene “makes if difficult to understand how the multiple phases of the pre-flight (were) missed by both pilots, and how the hang-check was not performed.”

According to witnesses at the time, Godinez-Avila clung desperately to Orders’ legs after she slipped out of the harness on take-off, but finally could hang on no longer and fell to her death.

According to the HPAC report, Shaun Wallace, a certified pilot from Australia, had been hired by Orders to take Godinez-Avila’s boyfriend on a tandem flight following Orders’ take-off.

Wallace took part in several pre-flight actions involving Godinez-Avila, Henry wrote in the report, including bringing her to Orders’ hang-glider, activating the video camera, and “remaining directly behind the glider during the launch process.”

However, Henry added that as command pilot, Orders was “solely responsible for the safety of his passenger.”

Henry wrote that his investigation was “unable to determine the reason for the omission of the critical pre-launch safety checks,” but he concluded that “the dynamics of multiple passengers and instructors may be the key to understanding why the critical pre-launch procedures were not performed.”

Just a few weeks prior to the fatal flight, Orders, 50, had taken a re-certification course that included the pre-launch readiness procedure.