The alarming number of paragliding accidents in the Dhauladhars of Himachal Pradesh that have tragically claimed the lives of at least 10 gliders over the past five years is reflective of scant regard for the enforcement of safety rules. The latest crash earlier this month that proved fatal for a Canadian citizen is a grim reminder of the dangers of indulging in this aero sport without proper protective equipment in place. It’s time the state tourism department took upon itself the responsibility and task of ensuring that no more hazardous trips are undertaken. Any laxity calls for stringent deterrent action, not only against the operators, but also the rule enforcement officials.
No glider should be allowed to take off from the umpteen adventure spots dotting the Kullu and Manali areas unless it is cleared by the department. The criteria for giving the go-ahead have been clearly laid out, but they are, sadly, rarely implemented or adhered to. All tourists and flying enthusiasts should be enlightened about the importance of checking the security guidelines and insisting upon them before undertaking a sortie, for the sake of their own lives. Prominently mandatory among them are a valid licence for the pilot, safety-certified parachute and helmet, altimeter, barometer, speed indicator and first-aid kits for the gliders soaring into the skies. That some sports adventurers have gone missing or remained untraced underlines the importance of having in the saddle a two-way radio communication system. Experience also teaches how ground support is of immense value in the hour of emergency and saving lives. This includes a ready retrieval vehicle and an insurance cover.
Himachal is the paragliding capital of India, endowed with natural pockets of thermals that help paragliders gain heights and easily fly from one cluster to another. Over 50,000 aficionados, both domestic and foreign, flock to Kangra’s Bir Billing village alone every year, putting it atop the world map for this extreme adventure sport. It is thus imperative that the spate of tragedies is reined in with safe proactive practices. The thrilling exploit must thrive as it has wide tourist and economic implications.