The hang gliding accident that resulted in 27-year-old Lenami Godinez-Avila plunging to her death last spring was ultimately caused by a pair of distracted pilots, according to a report by the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada released on Wednesday.
"[T]he investigation assumes that pilot distraction resulted in a failure to perform recommended standardized safety procedures, resulting in the death of the passenger...," stated HPAC investigator Martin Henry.
The report determined Godinez-Avila's harness was not connected to the glider on takeoff, allowing her to fall 300 metres seconds after launching a tandem flight off Mount Woodside in the Fraser Valley on April 28, 2012. The required "hang-check" - a test to ensure that harnesses are hooked in - had not been carried out by either instructor.
Two HPAC-certified pilots, Burnaby resident Jon Orders - who was flying with Godinez-Avila when she fell - and Shaun Wallace, were outfitting Godinez-Avila and her boyfriend before takeoff. "[T]he two instructors appeared to deal with the two tandems as a team," each one helping with preparation for the two launches, Henry stated.
An effective division of responsibility may have allowed them to overlook the standard pre-flight passenger checks.
"The investigation concludes that the dynamics of multiple passengers and instructors may be the key to understanding why the critical pre-launch procedures were not performed."
It implied that had only one pilot been assisting the two passengers, the checks might have been made and Godinez-Avila would still be alive.
Although Orders, 50, was solely responsible for his passenger as "pilot in command," Wallace, an Australian with "substantial tandem experience," activated Orders's video camera, remained directly behind the tandem glider during the launch and participated in the pre-flight process in other ways, according to the report.
Its findings were based on witness statements as well as evidence held by the RCMP, which may include the video card Orders allegedly swallowed after the incident. He was charged with obstruction of justice two days later after an X-ray appeared to reveal the memory card from the video camera he supposedly had running during the accident.
Orders, 50, the owner and operator of Vancouver Hang Gliding, is a 16-year veteran of the sport. His website says photos and videos are available "using a specially mounted camera pole that captures you, your pilot and the amazing scenery around you."
Orders has not yet filed an accident report with the association.
Several days before, Godinez-Avila and her boyfriend had chosen to celebrate an anniversary at Mount Woodside, a popular launch site with hang gliding and paragliding buffs because it stares right into natural prevailing winds - necessary to give lift - and because it offers breathtaking views of Harrison Bay, the Fraser River and Chilliwack below.
Godinez-Avila fell into a clearcut area where a cherry blossom tree has since been planted in her memory.
The report ruled out equipment failure as a contributing factor.
Recommendations for future hang gliding practices may emerge later as a result of the incident, Henry said.