Fatal hang-gliding accident investigation examines liability waiver form

The fingerprints of 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 deadly plummet from Monument Peak that also seriously injured a woman, hardcore paragliders and hang-gliding enthusiasts were back in the air.

The county’s Parks Department requires a liability waiver form to be filled out before hang-gliders launch 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-gliding pilot.

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

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

"The higher you go, the worse they are. When it is windy and you get up, even as high as the top of the street I live on, um, it’ll sound like a freight train. It is loud. It is continuous. And it is hard," said Lynn Peters, who lives not far from the park.

The Santa Clara County Parks Department says waivers must be filled out online and submitted, before launching. Club members confirmed to KTVU that newbies and passengers are warned of the risks.

"It’s like a driver’s license. You’re not gonna put a teenager in a car without having them do instruction," said Shuster. "It’s the same thing here," 

But enforcement of the waivers is a gray area. 

In an email, parks department spokeswoman Tamara Clark wrote, "Access to the hang-gliding site is given to specific organizations….A hang-glider completes the application for a waiver…and once received by our office, we issue a sticker for the back of their helmet. This incident is still under investigation." 

"The key will be was there a liability waiver executed prior to the departure of the hang-glider," said attorney Steven Clark.

Clark works, in-part, as a legal analyst in the 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-gliding association. But it may not cover the operator of the hang-glider. And it also may not cover the equipment utilized here."

If investigation find the hang-gliding equipment was faulty or in disrepair,  Clark said the waiver may not stand legal scrutiny.

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

"Flying is a risky sport, no matter what it is," said Shuster.

Late Tuesday the executive director of the U.S. Para and Hang-Gliding Association said their protocol is for tandem pilots, who must be members, to fill out a waiver prior to departure. That would be in addition to whatever is 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