Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Veteran Paragliders Criticize Instructor after Student's Death

SAN DIEGO -- Paragliding instructors in Utah and Southern California are criticizing one of their own for questionable safety practices after a 48-year-old student was killed during a lesson in Imperial Beach.

Henry Ho, a financial adviser from Windsor, Colo., died June 26 after slamming into rocks south of the terminus of Seacoast Drive, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.

Ho was part of a class of ten students training under Dell Schanze, a Utah-based instructor, and two assistants.

None of the students were wearing helmets while practicing glider control and taking off on "touch-and-go" jumps of 15 to 20 feet on the beach, Schanze confirmed to San Diego 6 News.

Helmets are widely used in the industry and seen as standard practice, several certified instructors said.

"We do not even let anybody get into a harness, much less strap a paraglider to their harness without a helmet on first. It’s the first thing we teach," said Torrey Pines Gliderport instructor Billy Purden.

Schanze has a history of arrests and citations from daredevil stunts, including a BASE jump off the 125-foot historical Astoria Column in Oregon. The Imperial Beach City Council enacted emergency legislation last year after Schanze paraglided off a home.

"Anyone being critical of our training isn't competent to know or understand how the training really works," Schanze told San Diego 6 by phone Tuesday.

He said Ho's death was the result of "pilot error" and could not have been anticipated.

"Basically the pilot turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the direction he was supposed to go, and well trained to go."

"Does that suggest he was not properly trained?" asked San Diego 6 reporter Derek Staahl.

"No not in any way."

"Well how so?"

"I have a ton of video showing him with a complete mastery of all the basic skills."

"Then how did he make that error?" Staahl replied.

"It wouldn't be any more the case than if you sold someone a car and they went out and ran it into something clear out in the middle of nowhere," said Schanze.

Paragliding is prohibited in Imperial Beach, but enthusiasts are allowed to practice "ground work" on the sand so long as they don't become airborne, said Dean Roberts of the city's Public Safety Department.

Roberts could not be reached late Tuesday to see if "touch-and-go" jumps of 15 to 20 feet would be in violation of this ordinance.

Each student paid $2500 for the 10-day intensive course, Schanze said. But his business, Paraglider Mall, is not licensed to operate in Imperial Beach.

Roberts said last week Schanze could be subject to fines if the city found he was operating without a license.

Shane Denherder, a Utah-based instructor who worked for Schanze from 2010 to 2012, said his former boss regularly told students to lie to authorities if they were approached on the beach during training.

"He would tell them to not say that we're out here paying for training, but more that we're just a group of friends out here to fly," Denherder said.

Denherder said Schanze encouraged students to attempt highly advanced and dangerous maneuvers after just a few days of training. He said he long feared Schanze's confidence in his teaching ability could lead to an accident.

"Not to brag about my skills," Schanze told San Diego 6, "but I am currently the best pilot in the world and I have the best safety record."

He said the deadly crash was the first injury incident in his 12-year career.

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