Stricken Glider Pilot Parachutes to Safety


All things considered, longtime glider pilot Bob Spielman parachuted to safety in the perfect spot after the wings of his ASW 27 glider snapped off like a toy in mid-air.

Severe mountain wave turbulence tore both of the wings off Spielman’s German-built Schleicher glider he took off from the Minden-Tahoe airport, about 45 minutes south of Reno, Nevada, local news reports.

The Reno area is considered an ideal spot for glider enthusiasts according to because of its unique location nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The oscillating winds there – called mountain waves – create a massive uplift on the lee side of the ridge, so powerless aircraft can fly to extreme altitudes and go for especially long and often record-breaking distances.

Experienced glider pilots understand that “flying the wave” comes with some danger. That’s why they wear parachutes in the event their aircraft breaks apart. In this area, rotational wind shear can cause extreme turbulence with a rotor cloud forming inside of the swirling wind. So strong is this turbulence that it has the potential to cause catastrophic structural damage to a glider. 

The strong wave winds pushed Spielman off-course, and he knew immediately that he was in serious trouble. As his aircraft began breaking up, Bob parachuted out. He landed safely on the roof of a parking garage belonging to Reno’s St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries by paramedics and released.

The glider was destroyed and one wing is still missing. Debris from the crash including the main fuselage struck some nearby vehicles, but nobody on the ground was injured. One wing was discovered a mile away from the crash site in a city park. Reno Fire Department had this to tweet on the day of the accident.