In the wake of the 2 paragliding fatalities, I cannot in good conscience remain quiet. When middle aged men foolishly run off a mountain inadequately prepared, that is theri own fault. But when you start killing children, I have to come out of the closet. I write these statments at my own peril, having been harasses, intimidated and beaten, upon publication I expect retribution. I accept these consequences.
A close scrutiny of the Taitung Aerosports Association will reveal a loose association of ’ good ol’ boys’ who run the club as a business according to a system of nepotism and coverups, capricious rules, no accountability and wreckless negligence. The parent group, Taipei Paragiding Association is not much better.
One of the most popular buzz phrases in paraglding is" Attitude is everything." The current political-economic climate among the associations undermines the proper attitude for safe paragliding.
The knowledge base is out dated and never upgraded. They resist attempts by foreign professionals to introduce the newer, safer techniques for fear of loosing face. The system of testing is a superficial formality. Questions on the written tests are often obsolete or just plain wrong. Test are administered unproctored. The results are not even considered. Certifications are handed out according to favor and intimidation rather than skill.
The Taitung Aerosports Association is little more than a perforated milk bucket for government money. They were recently awarded 200,000,000 NT for an air park despite thier terrible safety record. Each competition is subsidized to as much as 5 million NT. Last year 6 pilots were hospitalized, including the General Manager and safety officer.Very little of this money goes into skills development. The coaches, being relatively underpaid, are insufficiently motivated to provide good instruction or assume any kind of responsibility. They’re damn good pilots. But, not all who fly are suitable to be coaches.
One of the ‘good ol’ boys has wrecked a 700,000 NT powered hangglider 3 times, ‘by no fault of his own’. He is not required to pay for it. Meanwhile, other members are nickle and dimed.
Tandem pilots are the lowest paid on the island and are not allowed to purchase thier own equipment but are required to rent gear from the club.
The tea shop at the take off zone does a millions of dollars a month business in season only because the pilots fly there. Yet, he insists that the take off zone is large enough and castrates the tandem pilots fees.
The club membership roster is hammered with ‘ghost pilots’.
The Gen. Mgr ‘plays’ the media very well to maintain an emminence front. But below the surface there is absolutely no substance. He’ll blow the dust off the chest banner that reads ’ Safety Officer’ and parade around in front of the press. But as soon as the cameras are gone it’s business as usual. The common battle cry among tandem pilots is " Get out of my way. I’m making money." The TV news last year proudly proclaimed pilots from 8 countries at the competition in Hualien when in fact there were none, or ‘ghost pilots’ at best.
Lu Yeh Kao Tai boasts the best and safest site for paragliding. And it surely could be. But safety and convenience issues are constantly pushed aside for profits. Kao tai has the SMALLEST TAKE OFF ZONE in Taiwan, but the biggest parking lot. The take off zone is open to spectators, children, puppies, wheelchairs, and food vendors. This is unacceptable. It is coated with cement rather than grass, the industry standard.
The club is run iron fisted through intimidation and harassment. If you don’t spout the party line, if you’re not one of the ‘inner circle’ , or if the Lu Yeh resident pilots don’t like the color of your skin, you’re ostracized.
The clubs are subsidized by the head count at the competitions. So, new pilots with as little as 7 flights in their log book are pressured into participating in the competitions.
Accidents are not reported. The injuries are later explained as something else, " Oh, I fell out of a tree. " or " I had a motorcycle accident." Two tandem pilots are at Lu yeh have visual disabilities requiring eyeglasses but never wear the. Another is hearing impaired. The general manager of the club is bankrupt, has had all of his property on auction and is in debt for tens of millions. And yet, contrary to County law, he continues to administer the finainces for the club.
Unlike foreign pilots on Taiwan and in the rest of the world, many local pilots are secretive about thier knowledge and skills preferring to maintain thier competitive edge. Hence, the collective knowledge base doesn’t grow. If you don’t join the ‘Gan -bei’ hours and stroke the coaches inflated ego, you get absolutely no instruction beyond take off and landing.
There is no accountability. In case of an accident the coaches reply, " He wasn’t MY student." He was a wreckless and irresponsible pilot. He didn’t respect his coaches. " And, of course there’s no one to speak for him now. He’s dead…
…because he wasn’t trained properly, because he didn’t get the kind of guidance that any participant in this sport needs throughout his flying carreer.
The prioities in the club are money, face and more money. Safety and quality control are merely masks we put on for the media. Coaches make money flying tandem. They don’t make money coaching. So, in a country where money is our God, what would you expect? The club makes money from government subsidies. The club is run like a business. New pilots are merely clowns in the flying circus. They are expendable.
The club leadership solicits foreign consultation only when it meets financial or political objectives. they refuse and ignore opportunities to engage wolrd class training even when it is merely a handshake away. Les Sharpe , wingstaiwan.com, is unquestionable one of the best coaches on the island. His techniques and strategies for training are state of the art and second to none. Yet, he is brushed aside as a foreign devil. Gabe Jebb, founding member of the world’s largest glider port, Torrey Pines, California , has been here for a month at a time on 3 separate occassions and was introduced to leadership as ready willing and able to offer training, advice, supervision, workshops. He was rebuffed.
Elementary rules of common sense are set aide for small margin profits here and there. Coaches will sell advanced gliders to beginner pilots so that the coach can unload his old glider or reduce his inventory. A new pilot will be told to take off even though the conditions are not right for a safe flight. Pilots are permitted to fly without a reserve chute or speedbar. Most coaches refuse to acknowledge that a speedbar is a safety feature to prevent a pilot from getting pushed back in strong wind. There is one Taiwan coach who FLAT OUT refuses to teach the industry standard reverse inflation insisting on only using the standard inflation techniques from TEN YEARS AGO. in the recent fatality at Saijya, authorities will find that the harness used was not suitable for the pilot size. The shoulder straps were too wide. Hence, when the passenger leaned forward, he tipped out.
The associations AT LARGE are guilty of gross negligence in the way they refuse to police thier own people, refuse to uphold a standard except when it is politically or financially expedient or when it can be used against those who try to alter the system of corruption and neglect.
These people who are in power in the associations, through thier negligence are ruining the reputation of what in other parts of the world is a safe extreme sport. And Taiwan is earning a reputation as a flying circus.
There are alot of newer members, good pilots, in the associations who have come in with good intentions and actively seek change, dedicated to upgrading. But the nature of the existing system, fostering an attitude of greed and vanity over safety and knowledge, is so pervasive that they soon succumb to tacit acceptance.
How do I know all this? I have been in the club for 5 years. I am the only foreign pilot to have been in the association so long and have gone through the system of certification from the beginning to the advanced. I have tried to leave the club 3 years ago. They would not release me insisting that I am under thier jurisdiction and subject to thier continued harassment and capricious laws. They know that it is my goal to open another club, offering pilots a egalitarian alternative making safety and training the top priority. Then they will really loose face. During my active 3 years I have bent over backward to try to improve training, increase the knowledge base, equipment and training methods. I received the take off and landing training in 1999 and was left to my own devices from there. But I learned to fly by reading everything I can on the internet and from other foreign pilots.
I am the only (sic) advanced pilot in Taitung Association NOT to have been hospitalized for a paragliding injury. I am the only pilot to have flown over 17 sites in Taitung County, from Ta Wu through Dong Huh.
Now you compare this to the Club chairman who hasn’t flown since his accident 4 years ago, or for the Gen Mgr who has flown once a year for the past 3 years and spent the rest of the season in recovery from his injuries. So why do these people stay involved in paragliding? You ask them.
Any lawyer worth his briefs will do some interviews and requisition some documents from the training records and competitions and verify these allegations. Someone will be paid. But, unless there is change in the system the death toll and the casualty rate will remain high and paragliding as a tourism attraction will never get off the ground.
So, what can be done to remedy the situation? simple: Perestroika, ’ break, and make again. lose face, save lives.
1 lose face and save lives. Admit that we have a problem in the associations
2 hire a foreign professional to upgrade coaches skills
3 revise testing materials
4 use foreign testing certification system, ie US Hanggliding Assoc., FAI, BHPA, etc
5 employ foreign testing agency to proctor exams and issue certifications
6 translate more written information into Chinese
7 Stop throwign good money after bad. Cut subsidies until this is done or they can demonstrate competence and accountability.
Malcolm Vargas aka: Ma Tai-i
Ah Loon was a promising pilot. He was diligent serious and constantly seeking the right way to pursue his new found passion. May he rest in peace and in knowing that things will be better tomorrow.
Malcolm Vargas, 19 years in (Taitung) Taiwan
0972 049 819