Douglas Jenman from Cape Town was involved in a kiteboarding accident on Sunday 25 May 2003. A wind gust picked him up in gusty north-westerley onshore conditions. He was hovering a few meters above the ground, heading towards a house at a rapid speed. He had little control over the situation. His only option was to seperate himself from his kite whilst in mid-air. In a final attempt to prevent flying into a house he released himself from his kite and landed on a wall, which fractured both his legs. He is considered very lucky to be alive, as he could very easily have suffered skull injuries and fractures to his spine.
According to Rian Smit, a respected weather forecaster at the Cape Town Weather Office in South Africa, this was not a squall line, thunder clouds, dark clouds or rainy clouds that caused the accident. He says that it is very unusual for clouds to have an effect on the wind conditions. The darkness or colour of a cloud has no relationship or effect on the wind conditions.
A squall line is a line of thunderstorms that produces it's own windward lift due to outflow boundaries. The windward lift is usually very strong, and people have mistaken squall lines with tornadoes. There were no thunder clouds present on Sunday.
It seems that there are two types of lofting accidents. The first is squall related, and the second is gust related. Squalls occur mostly in tropical areas. This incident was not squall related. Most lofting incidents in non-tropical areas are simply strong gusts followed by lulls.
Conditions in which squall lines occur are usually a few moments before a thunder storm occurs.
What usually causes gusts like the one Douglas was picked up by, is a strong flow of cold air hitting against a mountain. The air hitting off the mountain is usually warmer than the cold air hitting the mountain. When the cold air mixes with the hot air, it creates gusty conditions.
The direction of the wind, the speed of the wind, and the angle that the wind hits the mountain have the most effect on how strong or weak the gusts will be.
Let's take a look at the conditions that caused the accident, why it happened, and what can be done to avoid accidents like this from happening in the future.
In Douglas's case he was kiteboarding in onshore conditions. He was on a big kite.
A strong burst of wind (a gust) picked him up, carried him toward some houses and dropped him just in front of them.
At this stage, his kite was drifting back in the power zone, and another gust was on the way to pick him up again.
What often happens when one gets picked up by a gust, or even when you do a jump on the beach, is your kite falls back in the window. You almost underfly your kite in the sky, and by the time you land you have little power in your kite. Once you have landed your kite, it will usually drift back in the power zone, and when it does and the wind is strong enough you will either get yanked or be sent skyward again. What probably happened is very similar to this, the only difference is that Douglas's kite was not only on his way drifting back to the power zone, but another gust was already lifting him up, causing another lofting - strong enough to have sent him a few meters in the air.
He was just about to hit some obstacles and walls when he decided to release from his kite with his quick release, causing him to fall on a wall and fracture both his legs.
Had he not released he would have hit some objects or a wall and could have suffered far worse injuries.
What caused the accident:
Douglas was on a 16 square meter kite and he was kiteboarding in onshore conditions. A cold front was hitting off a mountain, generating gusty and potentially dangerous conditions.
He was lofted off the ground and had a moment in which he could have released. At this stage he was probably unsure as to release, or unable to. Before he could release, his kite not only powered up, but another gust hit him. The gust sent him skyward, and finally caused the accident.
What can be done to prevent accidents like this from happening:
1) Try and avoid onshore wind if the wind is gusty and the beach space is limited . When something goes wrong and you get sent skyward, you are bound to hit something on land or kill yourself.
2) Stay away from obstacles. As a rule of thumb, leave at least
3 - 4 kite line lengths between you and the nearest obstacle. As the
wind speed increases, so should this distance.
3) Make sure you have a decent safety release system, and that you are able to release from your kite in an instant. Had Douglas not been able to do this, the consequences would have been much worse.
4) Know your limits. Do not go out with a kite that is too big. When something goes wrong, you have little room for error.
5) Always wear a helmet. This incident once again states how dangerous kiteboarding is. You don't need to hit an object very hard with your head to kill yourself.
6) Learn to read wind conditions and different types of gusts. There are many different types of gusts. Wind gusting from 15 - 23 knots will normally pick you up and return to 15 knots, meaning the wind is still strong enough to glide you down. But a gust followed by a lull is dangerous and there are the types of gusts you should steer clear of. The wind can gust from 15 - 25 knots and suddenly there is only 5 knots, meaning you can seriously injure yourself.
7) Do not kite alone. Kite with other kiteboarders, as in general the majority will choose better kiting conditions to kite in.
We are all guilty of kiteboarding in onshore conditions, gusty conditions, and conditions that are unsafe most of the times.
Hopefully we can all learn from Douglas's accident, and be reminded that if you kiteboard in dangerous conditions, you have little room for error