Gov't Report Finds Breakdown in Air Sports Oversight

A new Transportation Ministry report on paragliding and other air sports reveals serious safety failings at many Israeli institutions offering such activities. Those problems were found to have been at least partly responsible for the fatal accident that took the life of a paraglider in April near a Galilee kibbutz.

A copy of the investigation's findings, obtained by Haaretz, shows that purveyors of air sports have "in recent years done largely as they wish," and that "the absence of organized activities within the community and lack of standards regarding gliding equipment, sites and safety rules are the primary causes of the field's deterioration."

The document "points to the clear fact that the Civil Aviation Authority does not see itself as responsible for overseeing air sports, a family of athletic activities that includes paragliding. The authority, it found, has generally sought to transfer responsibility to other government agencies."

The chief aerial accident investigator at the Transportation Ministry, Yitzhak Raz, admitted that government bodies are ill-equipped to enforce gliders' safety, and it is doubtful whether setting high goals for such enforcement is realistic.

Still, the document states that "it is incumbent upon the state to set regulations for, among other things, athletic and leisure activities, even if at issue are extreme sports. The foremost consideration is not the need to save money but the need of the state to fulfill its duties toward its citizens, even if they are a minority that pursues unusual or even dangerous activities."

The document offers a detailed account of the circumstances of the crash that occurred April 9.

Five participants in a paragliding course set off from a jump-off point on the Golan Heights for their first paragliding attempt, which was meant to be a short journey. One of the participants lingered in the air longer than the others, then while attempting a landing lost control of his parachute, entered into a spiral and hit the ground near Kibbutz Ha'on at high speed, killing him instantly.

Instructor's failings

"The instructor had a decisive role in [the accident] in not taking necessary action with precautionary safety measures and not identifying the emergency situation in time. As a result of this he was late in providing assistance to the participant in distress," the report found.

"The weather conditions present at the time were not appropriate for paragliding at high altitudes, certainly not their first time," it said.

"The serious failings discovered in the conduct of the paragliding school (where four gliding accidents occurred ), as difficult as they are, do not only characterize the school involved. Other instructional organizations, particularly private instructors, have behaved similarly for years. The absence of legal, professional arrangements for athletic gliding are a significant factor in creating a fertile ground for the aforementioned failings and the rise in serious incidents."

The report recommends a number of measures for improving the situation, including "creating an authorized body for athletic gliding to organize regulations and instruction for athletic activity" and to enforce rules for taking old equipment out of use.

The Transportation Ministry responded that it would "study the report and act accordingly."