Scott Harcourt Whiting
14 February 2017
On Monday 13th February 2017, I purchased a nearly new Parajet Zenith with a Bailey V5s motor as part of my plans to begin training and be airborne in the spring. I had contacted a local trainer Adam Fish and established a rapport with a view to beginning when the weather had dried up somewhat.
For the previous two months I had been avidly watching YouTube videos and reading any article I could. I read many safety articles and paid particular attention to articles on footflyer.com, including this http://footflyer.com/Articles/ABetterParamotor/paramotor_prop_safety.htm. So I was aware of the problem that was about to affect me …. the dreaded full throttle start.
Before I go into the actual incident, let me first explain that I know I personally made bad decisions on the day that I’m now painfully aware of. It is this that impels me to put pen paper. The basic message being, no amount of reading can equip you for the speed at which this particular menace happens. I will try to be honest about all of my mistakes in the hope of avoiding more of these incidents and also with a view to improving the situation from an engineering point of view. Which seems more to be a case of manufacturer adoption of currently available technology http://footflyer.com/Articles/ABetterParamotor/safestart.htm
Ideally, all manufacturers should be paying attention to this. Scout Paramotors have made a safe start system that would certainly have helped reduce my injuries, if not negate them. Something I have now purchased.
I now only start the machine on my back or on my carrier designed with warm ups in mind. As is now common practice.
I am aware that paramotoring is pretty much a self regulated sport and it was this very fact that attracted me initially. Something, I feel strongly, should continue. I am not a fan of external regulation in this regard. So I would welcome other manufacturers to invest in safety systems to help with this problem.
So, onto the accident.
I had spent all morning aquainting myself with the equipment, assembling the outer hoop and fitting the netting, I had planned to try to harness myself in and get used to moving around with it, but first, I wanted to start it and this was my first mistake. I’ve been around dangerous machinery all my life and having read all the safety articles, I thought I was up to the task. WRONG! I was a complete novice at paramotoring and paramotors.
I knew about full throttle starts, but in the moment of starting, hadn’t thought it could apply to ME, at this very moment. But it did and I was not equipped to deal with it.
I had checked the throttle for full movement, no problem, switch on and grasp as I was shown by the seller the day before. I braced to resist the thrust and grasped the starter handle. I pulled the handle once and nothing, again and the motor fired into action, turning instantly into a moving, out of control monster. My initial and only reaction was to attempt to stop its encroachment into me with my left hand.
I experienced what felt like one single impact almost immediately, CRACK…
I look at my hand, blood drains from my face, “oh shit” my middle finger is hanging off, bone is sticking out of the remaining stump and I’m bleeding, a lot! My neighbour informed me my green garage door was sprayed red as the prop continued to rotate at full speed. The machine was still coming at me and this is when I realise I’d made my second big mistake. I forgot about the kill switch and dropped the throttle assembly in the panic. Still the prop roared and I was now left the task of reaching behind the netting to the On-Off switch located at the top of the Zenith back-plate, whilst bracing the machine with my shoulder. This was also very dangerous, but I managed to carefully turn off the motor.
I was now in shock but very present and aware. I ran into the kitchen, and wrapped my hand in kitchen paper and applied as much pressure as I could stand. I was overcome by embarrassment at being so stupid, but more so by fear, fear of losing that hanging finger.
I shouted my wife, Debi, telling her to call 999 and that I’d had a bad accident. Debi came downstairs and was confronted by a scene of pure horror. By now, blood was all over the kitchen, with our two Dalmatians licking up blood from the floor. My poor wife, in pieces but still functioning, had got through to the emergency services and was receiving instruction. I was now in deep shock and took a look at my hand. I panicked, where was the tip of my thumb? I stumbled outside to look for it in the vain hope I could get it put back. Closely followed by my wife, who was having trouble getting me to sit still and wait for help. I was frantic. What had I done to my hand? Where was my thumb tip? My dreams were in tatters, as was my hand.
The ambulance arrived after what seemed an eternity. We got a neighbour involved in the search for the missing part and I informed the paramedics to get in the ambulance and treat me on the way to hospital.
The medics were fantastic, quickly getting my details so they could administer pain relief. I was given Entonox, paracetamol and morphine. The Entonox quickly took me away from the pain, but made the whole scenario become somewhat surreal. A paramedic then stated not to worry, that my little finger tip had been found on my neighbour’s drive. Until then, I was unaware it was missing.
The ambulance could now leave for the hospital, my little finger, on ice, between my legs. My thumb tip wasn’t recovered.
On arrival at Derby hospitals specialist hand centre (at least something went my way) I was taken straight in and attended by the staff in a thankfully, short time. A consultant saw me and I was told I would be in surgery within hours to try to save my middle finger.
It was assessed and found to have a blood supply, but no sensation. Each separate digit then received a local anaesthetic injection and I was then mostly free from the agony. The situation was looking hopeful and the consultant talked me through what was going to happen. A rebuild of the finger initially to stabilise it, with a view to fusing the knuckle at a later date.
I was given a block in my shoulder, which was a local anaesthetic injected around the main nerve to the arm, guided by ultrasound to avoid puncturing my lung…
My arm became totally paralysed and numb. A long acting local anaesthetic was used to help me with the pain.
I don’t know how long the operation took but it was quicker than I expected. The reason being, amputations are quicker than micro surgery. I had lost the finger. I asked to see it after the operation had finished. The cloth barrier was lowered between my hand and me. All I could do was look at the nurses and say ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting to see that this morning’. I was devastated by the image burning in my retina.
I was asked if I would prefer to stay overnight in hospital or go home. I chose to go home. It was 12am and I was exhausted.
This was the beginning of a long healing process.