Tragedy at Torrey Pines Gliderport as two paragliders die in collision
by EMILY BLACKWOOD
Published - 03/22/19 - 08:04 AM | 956 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A paraglider floats above Blacks Beach in Torrey Pines. / THOMAS MELVILLE / VILLAGE NEWS
A paraglider floats above Blacks Beach in Torrey Pines. / THOMAS MELVILLE / VILLAGE NEWS
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By all accounts, it was a pretty perfect day. The air was good, and there was plenty of space to fly, according to Torrey Pines Gliderport flight director Gabriel Jebb. No one could have imagined that it would be the backdrop for the Gliderport’s first death in more than 10 years, and its first midair collision to cause multiple deaths. It was a tragedy. One that, according to Jebb, "couldn’t have happened to two better guys.”

On March 9, Glenn Johnny Peter Bengtsson, 43, of Carlsbad, and Raul Gonzalez Valerio, 61, of Laguna Hills, died after they crashed into each other and fell into a cliff. Both Bengtsson and Valerio were certified pilots who were well aware of rules regarding the distance to keep between each other.

Valerio had fallen in love with paragliding after he retired and learned a couple of his buddies were doing it. He finished up his training at Torrey Pines a year ago, where he met Jebb. 

“He had this incredible dynamic personality,” Jebb said. “The first day you met him, you liked him.”

Valerio was known for being friends with everyone and could be found at Gliderport flying or even just hanging out with the pilots at least four days a week. 

Bengtsson worked as a commercial pilot and was passionate about “aviation in any form.” Jebb met him back in January. 

“His feeling was that once you started paragliding, flying a jet is like flying a car with more rules,” Jebb said. “Paragliding is about as close to being a bird as you can be."

The San Diego Police, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and the Medical Examiner's Office are still investigating.

what exactly caused the collision, Jebb said the deaths of their good friends has not only been a tragedy but a wake-up call.

Jebb said that as pilots, they try to learn from accidents like this one so that they can do their best to prevent it from happening again. In this case, he wants to encourage paragliders to really develop their situational awareness on things like fluctuation in the wind and how close they are to terrain and other pilots. 

“There are inherent risks to the sport, but it’s no more dangerous than driving a car. But it can become incredibly dangerous when you stop paying attention. And unfortunately, I think that’s what happened.”

Still, it is a relatively safe sport. According to ABC 10 News San Diego, the paragliding fatality rate is one in 100,000; the same statistic as automobile fatalities in the United States. 

It was also reported that the staff at Torrey Pines Gliderport might host a memorial fly-in for Bengtsson and Valerio, but that date has not been set.
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