Himachal: Paragliding at Bir- Billing comes under scanner amid frequent accidents
With recent accidents putting a question mark on the safety of paraglider pilots and tourists at Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh, the Kangra district administration is planning to strictly implement rules to regulate the adventure activity
With recent accidents putting a question mark on the safety of paraglider pilots and tourists at Bir-Billing, the Kangra district administration is planning to strictly implement rules to regulate the adventure activity.
A Ghaziabad tourist and a local pilot were killed and another pilot was injured in a crash on March 8 at Bir-Billing, following which the district authorities had suspended paragliding in the district. While the report of the magisterial probe ordered into the mishap is awaited, the district administration has given paragliding operators and pilots till March 25 to submit a compliance report to the directions issued in the meeting of the district aerosports regulatory committee about a month ago.
Kangra deputy commissioner Nipun Jindal said the frequent accidents have brought the famous paragliding site under scanner. He said that initial probe suggests that the recent mishap occurred after one person, who was assisting a pilot in the take-off got entangled in the harness and suspended with the paraglider. It caused the pilot to lose control and eventually the tourist and the person who was dragged along fell to death while the pilot was injured hurt after the crash. The final probe report is expected by March 15, which will ascertain the exact cause of the accident.
It is worth mentioning that more than two dozen paraglider crashes have occurred in Bir-Billing, Dharamshala, Mandi and Manali, in which at least 12 people, including tourists and foreign nationals, have been killed. Most of the crashes have taken place at Bir-Billing, which is considered world’s second best and Asia’s best paragliding site.
‘Separate sports from recreational paragliding’
Former minister and Billing Paragliding Association (BPA) president Sudhir Sharma says paragliding is an adventure sport that is “very weather dependent”. “Tandem flight, that is conducted for joy rides for tourists, is a recreational activity. He said the problem is that sport and tourism activities are being governed by the same set of rules.
“Banning paragliding for some time after the mishap is not a solution to the problem. The state government should enact a law to regulate it. Even though there are rules to regulate the activity right now, but they don’t differentiate between the sport and recreation,” added Sharma. There is not a clear distinction between a sports and commercial pilot. Hence, inexperienced people get the license for commercial flying, he added.
A seasoned pilot, who wished not to be named, said the rules implemented by the state government don’t conform to guidelines of international bodies such as the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) or World Air Sports Federation. Also, the state authorities lack experts with technical knowledge of paragliding.
According to international regulation, pilots are put in different categories like P1 to P5 based on the flying hours they have completed. After P5, the next levels are trainee instructors, instructors, senior instructor, sports tandem pilots and commercial pilots.
“The HP aero sports rules have no mention of these levels,” he said, adding that here people get license for tandem flying without any qualification at such levels.
Committee to monitor all activities
Meanwhile, Jindal said the district authorities are again drawing up safety protocols and strict regulations to prevent such mishaps in future.
He said the district tourism development officer (DTDO) will register all paragliding operators and pilots and they will be assigned a unique code, which nobody will be allowed to fly without. The registration will be renewed at fixed intervals. “The daily flights by a pilot will also be capped and they will have to undergo dope tests,” he said.
The DTDO will also constitute a technical committee under Rule 6 of HP Aero Sports Rules, 2004, which will monitor all activity, inspect the paragliding equipment on regular intervals and monitor weather conditions.
Besides, all sub-divisional magistrates will ensure that only those pilots who have been declared fit to fly conduct the activity. The paragliding take-off and landing sites will be declared no parking zones.
Pilots who violate the rules will have to cough up hefty fines and be black listed for repeated offences. He said suggestion have also been sought from all the stakeholders who to make paragliding safer.
FATAL FLIGHTS IN TWO YEARS
March 8, 2022: A 32-year-old tourist and a pilot fell to death from a paraglider
November 21, 2021: Thirty-year-old man dies after falling from paraglider at Bir.
October 16: Man assisting pilot in tandem flight falls to death after being stuck in the paraglider.
January 8: Delhi man, who took off from Billing, goes missing in the Dhauladhar ranges. His body was found after five months.
November 30, 2020: Canadian pilot killed after his paraglider crashlanded near Bir.
February 10: Trainee pilot killed after paraglider crash landed in forest near Bir.