Head for the hills


Name withheld by request

When a scenic hang glide took a turn for the worse.

I haven’t mentioned this sport aviation close call to many people, but I thought I should share my story so that others can learn from it. I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience what happened to me!

I was living and working at Wyndham in the Kimberley, in the north west of Western Australia, in the early 1990s. Six days a week I used to drive road trains along the twisting Great Northern Highway, in the valley of the Cockburn Ranges that climbed to 1200 ft. I never got bored of the journey. During the dry season, the ranges would be alight with fires that ran for a couple of hundred kilometres, and were drawn up to the summit by the intense heat and wind.

I was always amazed by the kite hawks swooping down on critters trying to escape the flames. They are incredible flyers, which brings me to The Bastion Range, a 1200 ft hill at the end of the Cockburn Range near the old port of Wyndham.

From its summit you can see the five rivers converging into Cambridge Gulf and the cattle ships, bulk ore carriers and grain ships dock at the Wyndham wharf.

The wind comes off the water and up the side of the Bastion and over the top, where there is a concrete launch pad for the local hang gliders.

The slope of the Bastion is about 45 degrees straight down to a gully about 1000 ft below, then there’s a slight rise followed by a slight gradient about the same as the beach to the ocean for another 200 ft. I hope I have drawn a picture in your mind of the contours of this fantastic sight—it’s a Mecca for hang gliders.

Now for the close call. I had decided to take my gyrocopter up for a fly on Sunday and do a fly past the launch pad. It was a good day for flying, lots of thermals that took me up to 400 ft once followed by a down draft to where I was before. I enjoyed this type of flying, it was a rush and I always kept away from the water ‘cause that’s where the crocodiles live’.

I had to get up to 1400 ft to fly a safe height above the Bastion and I noticed all the hang gliding pilots were on the ground near their gliders waiting for the right conditions for a launch. As I flew over, they waved.

Then, as I passed over the top of the edge of the Bastion heading towards the Gulf, the gyro suddenly dived at the same angle as the slope and I couldn’t pull up.

Suddenly I thought, ‘what’s going on here?’ So I put on full throttle and went with the sink; the gully was coming up quite fast. I didn’t lose any height above the slope and was roaring down faster than the gyro had ever flown, but I wasn’t interested in what the air speed was showing—I was getting ready to pull the tightest turn I’ve ever done.

A left-hander, I could feel the weight on the cyclic, so I pushed full left rudder. I could feel the machine’s rotors speeding up to absorb the G forces. I must have been 50 ft above the bottom of the gully when I washed off the G force—I was flying straight and level by now at 40 kt but I wasn’t out of the woods yet—I was heading into a dead end of the gully. So I had to build up speed to do a 360 degree turn to get out of there and back past the path I descended so rapidly.

Once I got into clear flying area, I could feel my heart racing with every thump like it was stuck in my throat. I flew straight back to the spot I took off from.

Now, I never fly anywhere where there are hills. I’ll always go around them or way above them. I’m not an educated person and I really don’t know much about meteorology, but I found out for myself: height is safety.


  1. There is definitely something to be learnt about flying leeside but the introduction is misleading. The pilot states he was flying a gyrocopter not a hang glider. It sounds like the hang glider pilots were waiting for the wind to come up the slope. Poor editing.
    Steve Blenkinsop, HGFA member 53049


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