Paragliding is potentially dangerous. No matter how well you are trained and how good your gear is, you can never entirely eliminate the risk of injury or even being killed. Anyone can make a mistake, and the environment we fly in is not always completely predictable. However good your instructor may be, he cannot make you a more decisive or coordinated person, or help you (other than by advice) to get out of trouble.
This begs the question: How dangerous is paragliding?
Some pilots fly very conservatively and are very risk-averse, others are much more aggressive in their approach, and choose to fly in challenging conditions, to compete at a high level, or attempt difficult goals. There is always a proportion of new pilots who are trying things for the first time, and others who have many years or decades of experience. Clearly, there is a huge variation in the level of risk faced by each individual.
Here is a consideration of the risks, based on the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association’s data, over the period January 2015 to December 2020.
The BHPA has approximately 7,500 flying members.
BHPA members have suffered a total of 20 fatalities during this 5-year period, i.e. an annual average of 4.0. In the same period there have been a further 4 accidents that have resulted in life-changing injuries. Most pilots would consider that the risk of permanent disability is at least as much of a concern as death. So, if we add those to the statistics, we have 24 very serious accidents in total, i.e. 4.8 per year.
If we assume that the mean average of days flying per member is in the region of 40 per year, and the mean average airtime is 40 hours per year, we can extrapolate the following risk. (Obviously there are huge variations in actual days and hours flown between pilots).
Working on these figures (which could best be described as educated assumptions),
all the members combined accumulate in the region of 300,000 flying hours each year.
Therefore: There is one fatality or very serious injury per 62,500 hours flown.
There is one fatality or very serious injury per 1,562 members each year.
An “average” pilot flying 40 hrs per year has a 1 in 1,563 risk of a fatal or life changing accident each year, or around 0.067%
At first glance this seems quite reassuring – the odds are on your side. However, if you consider that you might fly for another decade, then the overall risk of a serious accident during your flying career is evidently increased.
By comparison, the average risk in the UK for a man aged 25-34 of dying from any cause during one year (8,760hrs) is 1 in 1215, or 0.08%.
For a man aged 49-54, this rises dramatically to 1 in 279 or 0.36%. Women have a significantly lower risk.
You can look at these figures in several ways, to make a case for or against flying, and you can do a great deal to minimise your personal level of risk.
But every potential pilot does need to understand and accept that there is a significantly increased chance of death or serious injury if you take part in the sport of paragliding.