Paramotor Safety and Death Statistics: How Dangerous are They?


Paramotoring is a wildly thrilling sport, and a lot of videos make it tempting to try; the main reason people hesitate is that of the risk and fear or injury. Is the worry justified?

So, how dangerous is paramotoring? There have been 446 reported accidents involving paramotors. However, only around 10% of these have been labeled as particularly dangerous or harmful. Paramotoring should only be done with the proper gear and training, and there are still many factors that can lead to injury.

This may seem like good news, but death isn’t all that there is to worry about with paramotoring. When surviving a crash, the survivor is often left with many injuries.

Paramotoring Statistic: Injury and Death

There are no real set statistics for paramotoring, since not every accident is reported and cataloged. This can make it difficult to judge the danger of paramotoring, unlike car accidents, or even motorcycling accidents, so it is hard to get a firm grip on what is happening.

The only firm grasp of statistics comes from the USPPA, or the United States Powered Paragliding Association. Incidents are reported voluntarily, so the recorded statistics may not reflect the true number of paramotor crash occurrences.

According to the database provided by USPPA, there have been 446 incidents recorded. This record started in 1995 and continues to be updated today.

It should also be noted that paramotoring started in the 1980s, so previous accidents are also not factored in.

Of all of the incidents, there have been 40 fatalities. Again, these are only the reported crashes.

Number of IncidentsNumber of Major InjuriesNumber of Deaths
4467440

Common injuries for those who do not die in accidents include back fractures, burns, lacerations, and head trauma. Many injuries are bad enough that amputations are required.

So, from this information, we can gather that 9% of accidents paramotoring is fatal and 16.6% of all accidents cause major injury.

This number could vary if the true number of incidents is higher than what is recorded. The percentages of fatalities and major injuries could also change with a more accurate depiction of incidents.

USPPA

To get a better idea of how dangerous this sport is, I got in touch with the USPPA and what I found made me decide that paramotoring is far riskier than most people know.

The USPPA is the source that all the statistical information has been gathered from. Even the studies done by the BMJ finds its information from the United States Powered Paragliding Association database.

According to the information the USPPA offered to me, it is estimated that only 10% of all accidents are reported or entered into the database. If this is true, then the vast majority of paramotoring incidents are not calculated. The statistics show that paramotoring is safer than it truly is because there are many accidents that are grossly unaccounted for.

It is estimated that only 10% of all accidents are reported or entered into the database.

Using the statistics that have been calculated on available information, we can get a better idea of what the real risks are.

If all accidents were recorded, it is likely the number of reported accidents would be over 4,000. That is a staggering amount of crashes. However, a lot of these incidents could be minor as well, which is why they are not reported.

The USPPA also does not watch out for reports of paramotoring incidents, so the numbers reported are truly voluntary. The USPPA does go through and filter some reports, so no brand is targeted.

That being said, there could be brands that are more likely to fail in flight or are riskier to use, but there is not a formal way to calculate.

The USPPA does its best job to supply users with facts, but they are not always supplied with all the information they need. When it comes to paramotoring, it is hard to say how dangerous it is.

It is safe to say that paramotoring is a more dangerous activity than many companies and websites might claim. Be aware of the uncertain statistics when you’re consulting other sources.

Breakdown of Accidents that Occur

A study conducted by BMJ gathered data on paramotoring accidents from the incident reports on the USPPA database from 1995 – 2012. They were able to compile 383 reports, and we can see some of that data here:

Type of AccidentTotalPercentage
Collision with terrain/obstruction on ground7619.8%
Equipment malfunction5815.1%
Body contact with spinning prop4311.2%
Hard landing4010.4%
Fall379.7%
Wing malfunction or deflation359.1%
Handling209.2%
Line tangle/damage153.9%
Collision with other aircraft/ultralight143.6%
Water immersion102.6%
Other649.4%

Since 2012, there have been 63 incidents. Out of the 63 incidents not reported in the table above, there have been 7 deaths.

We can see from this chart that the most common type of accident is a collision with the terrain/obstruction on the ground. This is followed by engine failure, wing failure, or other equipment malfunctions.

The chart below also looks at the same study but takes into account the parts of the body that are injured in a crash.

Body Region# of CasesPercentage of all Injuries
Head187%
Chest72.7%
Upper Limbs11444.5%
Abdomen2.7%
Back259.7%
Pelvis83.1%
Lower Limbs8232%

Together, the accidents produce 256 injuries. That being said, having a crash or other type of incident while using a paramotor can be extremely painful and long-lasting.

Primary Causes of Accidents

Another set of data that BMJ collected was the causes of accidents in individual cases. These can give a greater insight into what to be especially aware of while flying on paramotors:

Primary CauseTotalPercent
Pilot errors (only)20553.5%
Mechanical failure (including fuel exhaustion)6717.5%
Not applicable/unknown246.3%
Weather (gust, thermal, rain, wind increase, etc.)225.7%
Pilot error and mechanical failure174.4%
Pilot error and weather174.4%
Other318.2%

Looking at this we can clearly see that pilot error is the main cause of accidents, followed by mechanical failure, and bad weather.

Common Mistakes that Can Lead to Injury

  • Flying too low
  • Flying in valleys or near hills
  • Flying in bad weather: rain, wind, etc.
  • Improper launch techniques
  • Using damaged equipment

Using Statics to Become a Safer Pilot

We can extrapolate from this data that by becoming a better pilot, taking care of your gear, and flying in ideal weather conditions you can avoid assuming unnecessary risk.

So, what are some ways to become a better pilot?

Watch Your Altitude

To avoid collisions with objects close to the ground, it’s best to stay high up in the air. Doing maneuvers close to the ground could go catastrophically wrong if a sudden gust of wind surprises you.

Flying below 200 feet in altitude puts you in what is called the “danger zone.”

Increasing the height keeps you away from most obstacles. With more height, you can also increase the amount of time you have to pull an emergency parachute in case of equipment malfunction.

Make sure you don’t fly too high, though, because there are limits in most areas for airplanes. It is illegal to fly over certain areas, such as national forests and airports.

Check and Re-Check Your Equipment

Another issue that you could run into is having brake and/or throttle lines that are too short to reach during flight, or else long enough to wrap up in a prop during flight. Not being able to reach controls has killed unsuspecting self-trainees, and getting a break caught in a prop can kill you in an instant.

The best way to prevent this is to check your equipment every time you want to fly.

Other issues can occur as well, so do a basic, yet thorough, run through each time. If there are some unusual noises, don’t ignore it. Remember that complacency is safety’s worse enemy.

Make sure you stay clear of the propeller while investigating problems. The most dangerous part of paramotor equipment is the propeller, and a lot of injuries happen here.

Here is a video that runs through the pre-flight check of a paramotor.

Pay Attention to the Weather

Although the weather is not one of the more common causes of incidents, it is still an important factor. Check the weather before you go out. Winds, rain, and cloud coverage all play a role in paramotoring.

The time of day can make an impact as well. It is best to fly in the morning or the evening.

Weather is so important that we’re going to look further into it below.

Ideal Weather Conditions for Safe Flying

Flying conditions can make or break a paramotor pilot. It’s always best to stay on the safe side of things when it comes to weather.

Wind

One of the first weather issues that people will run into when paramotoring is wind. Wind speed plays a big factor in paramotoring. A good rule of thumb is that if the wind speed is about 12 mph, don’t go flying that day.

Another thing to consider is the wind gusts. These are sharp spikes in wind speed, and they can affect your paramotoring experience in an unpleasant way. If the wind gusts are 5 mph above whatever the average is that day, it’s best to not go out.

There are apps that can be accessed here, that can determine wind speed. All good paramotor pilots have a way to find out the current wind speed, among other weather information.

Precipitation

Concerning rain, it’s best to not paramotor in precipitation, as it can lead to something called parachutal stall, where you lose all forward momentum and begin to sink towards the ground.

If you find yourself caught in the rain, open up your trimmers and apply your speed bar if you have it. Keep these settings as you’re going in for a landing and don’t take them off until you’re ready to flare.

Avoid steering with your breaks as well. Use the tip steering toggles instead. When you’re trying to get down to the ground in the rain, use tight turns, but don’t exit the turn too aggressively, as this could tilt your paramotor out of balance, and cause you to enter a parachutal stall.

An average wing will stall around 17 degrees angle of attack, but if your wing is wet, it could stall at just 9 degrees. Keep this in mind while flaring during landing, as doing so at the wrong time could cause problems. Be very careful and only flare very close to the ground within the last few feet.

Cloud Cover

Avoid flying into clouds. If it’s cloudy outside and you have low visibility, then consider avoiding flying that day. When you’re trying to get above the clouds, a good rule of thumb is to fly through a break in the clouds. Clouds can dampen your wing, and cause a parachutal stall.

When it comes to weather, rely on training and use your common sense. All it takes is one wrong gust of wind at the wrong time to ruin your whole day.

In my research, I found a useful excerpt from paramotorplanet.com about a strange and interesting phenomenon called “Cloud Suck”. Hopefully, none of us will experience this because frankly, it sounds terrifying.

“Some pilots have reported that they have been unable to descend while trapped in cloud suck, even while pulling deep spirals. Cumulonimbus clouds can expand rapidly… This makes them very dangerous for slow-moving paragliders and paramotorists who can’t escape the area of danger.”

paramotorplanet.com

Flying into clouds is illegal, and dangerous according to the CAA “Rules of the Air” regulation. Flying close to clouds is also illegal, but how close you can get depends heavily on the type of cloud and the type of paramotor you are using.

Is Paramotoring Really Safer than Riding a Motorcycle?

If you are familiar with or have started to research the paramotor world, you have probably heard the phrase “it’s safer than riding a motorcycle.” This is perpetuated often, but it is false.

Statistics when it comes to motorcycling have the frequency of riding included. Many more people own motorcycles than paramotors, so the sheer numbers alone shouldn’t be compared. The frequency of accidents is more important than the total number.

The statics for paramotoring are often not as in-depth and inclusive. It is hard to get a grasp on how many people truly paramotor, as there is no license required.

Paramotoring accidents are also not as well documented as motorcycling is. Therefore, there is a good chance that paramotor incidents are not as good of a reflection of what is going on as motorcycling.

Motorcyclists also ride a lot more frequently than most users can fly. Motorcycles can be used multiple times a day as opposed to paramotoring when frequent users are considered those who fly 5 times a year, according to the USPPA.

If paramotoring was used more frequently, the number of incidents would surely increase.

There are more motorcyclists as well, which contributes to the number of incidents. Motorcyclists also have to drive around cars and face a completely different setting, so the two are not all that comparable.

Claiming that motorcycling is more dangerous than paramotoring is a fallacy at best.

Reasons Why You Should Not Self-Teach

There are two ways to go about learning how to pilot a paramotor. Teaching yourself, or going to an instructing school. Teaching yourself to fly will most likely get you killed, but some people don’t have the time or money to attend one of the schools.

For those who absolutely have to teach themselves, there are many online resources, such as helpful tutorials on Youtube and many good websites but most will tell you that self-teaching is an awful and dangerous idea.

So many problems can occur when training on your own.

Self-teaching paramotoring makes the activity that much more unsafe.

Taking off at the wrong time of day in strong but imperceptible thermal conditions can toss you around like a leaf in the wind, and fold your wing in half. This can and does injure and kill hobbyists.

Another problem you could run into with self-training is not learning the proper running form – one with straight body posture and a forward facing propeller angle. Practically no one does this properly without training, and the engine pushes the pilot straight down during the launch run.

This could lead to permanent injuries, as well as facial scars. It’s really not worth it.

If you are curious, this website here gives the basic rundown of how paramotors work, but it does not replace formal training. If I’ve almost convinced you what a bad idea self-training is, you can click here for another testament to how dangerous self-training can be.

Paramotor Flight School is the Safest Way To Learn

If you plan on learning how to paramotor, this should be the only way that you do it. Incidents are reduced when proper training occurs.

Most paramotor flight schools have you visit the instructor’s location for a week or two. During this time period, you’ll spend some time indoors doing “ground school” lessons, or book learning. this typically happens whenever weather conditions outside are non-flyable.

When you are outside, most of the time will be spent learning how to ‘kite’ a paraglider wing, learning how to handle it on the ground, and how to position it over your head while running and getting ready for take-off.

At the end of your time in the school, your instructor will guide you via headset through the process of launching, maneuvering through the air, and landing.

By going to a paramotor flight school, you’ll become well acquainted with the parts of the paramotor rig, and get comfortable with maneuvering with a wing.

How to Maintain Gear for Safety

One of the scariest things that can happen to a paramotorist is for their equipment to fail them mid-flight.

In order to avoid this, certain precautions can be taken in maintaining your paramotor.

Firstly, don’t buy used equipment, especially if it is your first time. There are often problems with used rigs and since there is not really a way to certify a pre-owned buy, it’s better to get a safe setup that you know does not have any problems.

When purchasing a paramotor rig, get a good reliable brand. Don’t cheap out in this hobby. Be sure to always read reviews. Since mechanical failure is responsible for over 17% of accidents, it is important to exercise caution.

When becoming a paramotor pilot, you have to practically become a 2-stroke mechanic. Fortunately, for each paramotor, a manual comes with it that should teach you how to take care of your specific model.

There are some blanket rules that go for all paramotors though so make sure you read through it, even if you have flown before.

When doing an engine check, don’t forget to:

  • Check the spark plug
  • Tighten bolts (torque the head)
  • Readjust and tighten the prop rig
  • Check for any gas leaks
  • Ensure integrity of rubber mounts
  • Verify idle stability

To maintain your wing:

  • Check for any holes or tears after every flight
  • Be sure that the wing is clean after landing and before packing it away
  • When landing and taking off, try to choose areas that won’t damage the wing when it touches the ground (avoid gravel or areas with brush)
  • Be sure that the wing is dry before packing it away
  • Test the lines before every flight to make sure they will hold you

It’s usually best to do some maintenance every 10 hours of flight. Be sure to always follow your manual when maintaining your paramotor.

Real Accounts of Accidents

Even after proper training, crashes and injuries still occur. People who have flown many times still find themselves in deadly situations.

#1, Read Flake

Read Flake was a paramotor pilot who was not an expert, but certainly had experience with over 500 flights under his belt. He was out one day at a well known free flight site, Point of the Mountain.

Despite knowing it wasn’t completely ideal conditions, Read thought “I have a motor, there’s no need to drive to the top– just launch below and fly up to the ridge to catch the thermals.”

He did this, but when get got above the ridge, the wind hit him unexpectedly hard and launched him straight towards some nearby by power lines. In attempting to maneuver away from the lines, he caused a parachutal stall and dropped about 40 feet to the ground.

Though he survived, as a result of this accident, Read broke his pelvis, crushed two of his vertebrae in his spine, and one in his neck as well. He also partially collapsed his lung.

You can see the video here.

It’s a rather harrowing story to hear when someone who has so much experience is just swept away. Paramotoring is a dangerous sport, even for those who consider themselves professionals.

Here is another story that ended differently, because the flyer stuck to the safe side of PPG.

#2, Tucker Gott

In a Youtube video, Tucker begins to notice a problem as he’s taking off. He finds himself inexplicably turning right as soon as his feet leave the ground.

“So as I gain a little bit of altitude, I can now see what the problem is. It looks like three of the lines have bunched together. – This is something I’ve never really seen, and haven’t encountered since then, but that basically deforms the right wing tip and pulls it in, which causes that right turn.

He either had the decision to figure out a solution at a higher elevation, or to land as soon as possible.

“Given the situation, I decided to just come in for a landing immediately. and get back on the ground safely.”

Well said Tucker, well said.

When encountered with a situation like this where something feels off, even if you don’t immediately know the problem, come in for a landing to figure it out. It’s better to solve an easy problem on the ground, then to find yourself solving a hard problem 2,000 feet in the air.

Unnecessary Risks

Some accidents are unavoidable. Read’s story is a testament to that but they can be reduced. In Read’s case, he knew that the gusts of wind were potentially problematic, but decided to try to fly up to his location anyways.

Like Tucker Gott said, “Complacency kills.”

Never take unnecessary risks while paramotoring, it’s a risky enough activity all on its own without you adding on potential issues because of pride or complacency.

Sometimes the road may be harder or not as fun, but it is the right path to take.

Spirals or stunts of any kind are absurdly dangerous. They tend to induce blackouts, and once you black out, no matter the altitude, it’s almost always a death sentence.

When you get down to it, paramotoring has an intrinsic and inseparable risk associated with it. But doing dangerous tricks on paramotors is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Be Wise to Be Safe

Paramotoring is a fun sport. It’s full of thrills, excitement, and wonder. But it’s also full of danger, and potential heartache and pain.

I don’t mean to discourage anyone from paramotoring. All sports, all motorized vehicles, everything worth anything in life has risks involved with it. The dangers of paramotoring might be the very thing that attracted you to it.

Even the wildest journeys have a safer, smarter path to follow. Follow the safer path. Don’t let fear cripple you, but don’t let your hubris get the better of you either. Find the middle ground that’s right for you.

Accidents happen, but you can change yourself to minimize the risk of accidents. Go out and put in the work to be a better pilot. Don’t be like Read Flake or Richard Biggerstaff. Remember that complacency kills and that through preparation and caution, most accidents can be avoided.

Be watchful.

Be prepared.

Be wise.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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