NTSB Identification: LAX02LA231.
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Accident occurred Tuesday, July 16, 2002 in Tonopah, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/29/2004
Aircraft: Schleicher ASW-27, registration: N127HC
Injuries: 1 Serious,1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

During the initiation phase of an air tow takeoff launch, the pilot lost directional control of his glider when a wing contacted the runway. The glider veered off the runway and collided with a spectator and an automobile. The spectator was located ahead of the glider, but within an area that was supposed to be devoid of personnel. The pilot's ground crew was supposed to support the glider's wing during the beginning of the takeoff until the pilot acquired sufficient aerodynamic control to prevent the wings from contacting the ground. However, when the glider was connected to the tow plane, the tow plane never came to a complete stop. During the takeoff, the glider was accelerated in a slingshot manner out of the ground crew's hand. The accident occurred during a sanctioned Soaring Society of America aviation event (air race) known as the United States 15-Meter National Soaring Championships. Event spokespersons acknowledged that the area in where the collision occurred, called the "clear zone," had not been identified with specific markers, "Do Not Cross" signs, or physical barriers. They indicated, however, that the injured spectator was familiar with the airport, and evidently was 3.5 feet closer to the runway than he should have been, for personal reasons. The lateral distance between the runway's edge and the spectator was 78 feet. The pilot subsequently reported that had he held his brakes until the towrope was tight and stable, he would not have lost control. Also, the pilot reported that as soon as he observed that his course was diverging from the runway centerline, he could have pulled the tow release thus aborting the takeoff. Several of the aviation event's management and organization officials witnessed the accident. The National Soaring Championships Chair reported that, henceforth, its procedures were being changed by keeping the area in front of the glider's takeoff paths clear of nonparticipant personnel and vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

Air event management's failure to adequately separate spectators and vehicles from the takeoff path. Also causal was the glider pilot's failure to maintain directional control and failure to abort the takeoff attempt in a timely manner.

Full narrative available

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