Inquiry into fatal hang gliding accident reviews waiver of liability form

Fingerprints from the man killed in a hang-gliding crash are being used to confirm his identity, the Santa Clara County coroner said Tuesday.

A day after the fatal fall from Monument Peak which also seriously injured a woman, hardcore paragliders and hang-gliding enthusiasts were back in the air.

The County Parks Department requires that a liability release form be completed prior to launching hang gliders at Ed R. Levin Park.

“It’s really terrible. I mean there are risks involved and we know that and we try to manage the risks,” said Mike Shuster, a hang glider pilot.

Veterans of the sport said hang gliding clubs control who is allowed to take off from the Monument Summit at Ed R-Levin Park in Milpitas.

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On Monday, a tandem hang-gliding team crashed just before noon. Witnesses said the man who was killed in the crash was an experienced pilot. His passenger was seriously injured and is recovering at San Jose Regional Medical Center. Some people present in the park at the time of the crash said high winds may have played a role.

“The higher you go, the worse they get. When it’s windy and you get up, even up the street where I live, uh, it’ll sound like a freight train. It’s noisy It’s continuous. And it’s hard,” said Lynn Peters, who lives not far from the park.

The Santa Clara County Parks Department says waivers must be completed online and submitted before launch. Club members confirmed to KTVU that newbies and passengers are warned about the risks.

“It’s like a driver’s license. You’re not going to put a teenager in a car without having them follow instructions,” Shuster said. “It’s the same thing here”

But the application of waivers is a gray area.

In an email, Parks Department spokeswoman Tamara Clark wrote, “Access to the hang glider site is given to specific organizations…A hang glider completes the waiver request…and once received by our office, we are issuing a sticker for the back of their helmet. This incident is still under investigation.

“The key will be that there was a signed liability waiver before the hang glider departed,” attorney Steven Clark said.

Clark works, in part, as a legal analyst in South Bay. He said three main factors could have caused the crash, which will impact the strength of the waiver.

“The important thing now is to reverse engineer how this hang gliding accident happened,” he said. “The liability waiver covers the county and the hang glider association. But it may not cover the hang glider operator. And it also may not cover the equipment used here.”

If the investigation finds the hang-gliding equipment was faulty or in poor condition, Clark said the waiver might not withstand legal scrutiny.

For now, the tight-knit community of a few hundred hang-gliding enthusiasts are waiting to hear how one of their own was killed.

“Flight is a risky sport no matter what it is,” Shuster said.

Late Tuesday, the executive director of the US Para and Hang-Gliding Association said its protocol was for tandem riders, who must be members, to complete a waiver before departure. This would be in addition to anything required by Santa Clara County.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station’s South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv