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No Answer

November 30, 2014

by Greg
At anchor, Salinas, Puerto Rico

Caja de Muertos to Salinas. The light winds dropped
to  nothing E of Caja, so we motor-sailed the rest.
Ok, I can't stop thinking about this incident.  While we were sailing from Caja de Muertos to Salinas yesterday early AM, the US Coast Guard began issuing Pan Pan calls. Pan Pan calls give information about and request assistance with a situation that is urgent but short of an all-out emergency like a Mayday call. In this case, a powered paraglider had been seen going into the water, so the Coast Guard was requesting information from anyone else who might have seen the incident and requesting that boaters keep an eye out for the individual.

This pic from here

Powered paragliding looks really fun. These guys strap on parafoils, which are a form of parachute. Unlike the round parachutes you'd see used in a WWII movie, this is a rectangular or elliptical cloth construction that, when in use, forms a more rigid wing and so can be used for controlled gliding.  Like traditional parachutes, it has small lines called shrouds running down to the passenger hanging below. People jump out of planes with parafoils, but powered paragliders strap engines with a large propellers onto their backs. They need not jump off a building or out of a plane.  Their engines let them take off from the ground and climb thousands of feet into the air.

I'm no paraglider, powered or not, but I would imagine that a good piece of the engineering involves making sure one stays strapped tightly onto the engine and para-foil.

I would also imagine that one would start getting a little worried when, tightly strapped to a 45-80 pound
This pic from here
engine with a fast spinning prop and also strapped tight to a parafoil with lots of little lines leading up to the foil, one approaches a body of water.  But at anchor in Boqueron we saw paragliders banking tight turns low over the water and zipping past sailboats whose masts were higher than they were flying.

A little web research indicates that some motors float (or so it is claimed) but that many definitely do sink. Some sink really fast. And all those many lines leading to the parafoil seem very easy to get tangled in. And if there's wind or current on the foil pulling those shrouds tight once you're tangled? 

Eventually the Coast Guard discontinued those Pan Pan alerts with no additional information.  Generally this means they got no new information and gave up.

I don't know what happened to the subject of those alerts.Did his foil fold on itself or collapse or break?  Did his motor conk out and he didn't have enough altitude to glide back to land? Did he hotdog a tight banked turn over the water and just screw up? Was he trying to unbuckle before he hit, or did he think he could pull it out? Was it the weight of the motor? Was it the shrouds tangling him up?  Or both? I really hope this guy is OK, but for some reason I just can't stop thinking about the possibilities.

This pic from here

Staging behind Cabo Rojo from Boqueron

Cabo Rojo to "Gilligan's Island" near Guanica

"Gilligan's Island" to Caja de Muertos

Caja de Muertos to Playa de Salinas