A pilot suffered only minor injuries after the wings from his glider sheared off mid-flight. But that's not the amazing part. He managed to parachute safety on top of a downtown Reno parking garage that just happened to be used by the St. Mary's Hospital.
Robert Spielman took off from the Minden-Tahoe airport in search for some lift to keep him busy during Easter Sunday, only he didn't make it back to his planned destination.
According to local news reports, the majority of the glider landed in an alley near the parking garage, but one of the wings is still missing. Police say debris struck some vehicles, but no one else was hurt, while Bob was relatively unharmed and released after being treated at the scene.
The Reno area is a kind of Mecca for glider pilots. Its unique location nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains creates the ideal location for flying a mountain wave. This oscillating wind creates a massive updraft on the lee side of the ridge, allowing powerless aircraft and their crew the opportunity to fly to extreme altitudes and record breaking distances.
While this mountain wave weather phenomenon requires stable air by definition, there are several hazards associated while flying in the wave. That's the reason pilots always wear a parachute in the event that the aircraft breaks apart.
As a byproduct of the rising and sinking air, a rotational wind shear can form that's oftentimes invisible, creating dangerous turbulence. This turbulence can sometimes be identified by a rotor cloud that forms inside the swirling winds, and has the potential to create catastrophic structural failure due to the extreme forces applied to the aircraft.
Gliders are typically not built with the necessary instrumentation to fly into clouds and at low visibility. The pilot is required with fly with visual reference to the horizon, and is not necessarily trained on instrument flight. The rising updraft of a mountain wave will usually create a large hole in a cloud layer known as a foehn gap or "wave window." This gap can close suddenly and leave the powerless aircraft very little options to fly clear of the clouds. A few techniques are used to exit the situation, including putting the glider into a shallow spiral dive or even letting the aircraft enter a spin, only to recover from the maneuver once below the cloud layer.
Obviously, good weather is crucial, and this past Easter Sunday was a good day, despite Bob's fateful flight, with another group of endeavoring pilots leaving the same airport and ending with much better luck.
Jim and Alan Coombs took off from Minden airport at sunrise with hopes to break the 1,000 km Out and Return world record. Jim and Alan went over 3,000 km in total, but only six legs will count for 2,907 km (1,806 miles) at an overall speed of 154 mph, entirely without any onboard propulsion. The embedded 1,000 km Out and Return World Record claim is at a speed of 158 mph. That's under 4 hours to do 1,000 km and will crush the previous world record of 132 mph if approved. This is 45 minutes faster than previous record.
A big congrats to Jim and Allen on their record breaking flight, and a hearty "better luck next time" to Bob who will hopefully be back in the saddle soon.