A VICTOR Harbor paraglider has questioned an investigation finding into the deaths of two paragliders off Nirranda in May.
Experienced pilot Rob Lithgow, 52, of Torquay, and passenger Bruce Ottoway, 66, of Victor Harbor, were killed in a tragic tandem paragliding accident on May 19.
Mr Lithgow’s body was found tangled in ropes in the ocean the next day, but Mr Ottoway’s body was never recovered.
Yesterday paraglider David Joy called on Victorian Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association president Rob van der Klooster to withdraw his findings.
Mr van der Klooster told The Standard on August 20: “I think he (Mr Lithgow) just misjudged it and paid very dearly.
“He literally had thousands of hours of flying experience and certainly many hundreds of hours tandem paragliding and hang gliding.
“He would have had the option to land on top of the cliffs if he was high enough, but he dropped below the cliffs.”
Mr van der Klooster is preparing a report for the sport’s governing body and will present it if a coroner’s inquest is called.
Mr Joy is a friend of Mr Lithgow and flew with him in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Northern Territory.
“I did the filming for him when he flew the coastline from Melbourne to Adelaide. He is the only pilot to have achieved this total distance. I briefly knew Bruce Ottoway and introduced him to paragliding,” he said.
“My issue is that I strongly challenge the reported findings of Rob van der Klooster that the cause of the accident was a mistake and therefore pilot error.
“This finding has been widely accepted and published. I believe this finding to be unlikely, as there are a number of possibilities.”
Mr Joy said no one purposely flew below cliffs with no bottom landing as once below the cliff there was no way back.
He said he never knew Mr Lithgow to do a dangerous thing while flying and claimed it was impossible to come up with a conclusive finding.
“So the real question is: why did he end up below the cliff? Was it a mistake or were there other reasons?” he said.
“There is strong evidence to suggest otherwise.”
Mr Joy said it had been implied Mr Lithgow was unfamiliar with the area.
“Firstly Rob flew this whole area when flying the Melbourne to Adelaide trip,” he said.
“He flew the Bay of Islands with me 10 days before the accident. It was during this flight that I called Rob on the CB radio to position himself for a photo. His clear answer was ‘I will have to stay higher than you to be in reach of the cliffs. I don’t have the (emergency) inflation you have’.
“Why would he just 10 days later break his own rule of safety and risk his life and someone else’s? The mistake, and thus pilot error, are unlikely, unproven and unknown.
“The only person who can give a decisive answer is now deceased.”
Mr van der Klooster’s investigations have shown that while there were squalls in and around the area, conditions were good for flying when Mr Lithgow and Mr Ottoway took off about 2.30pm from a lookout area at the top of the cliffs.
But about 30 minutes into the flight, tragedy struck.
“They were probably two kilometres to the south-east above sheer cliffs, with nothing at the bottom. It’s a very rugged area,” Mr van der Klooster said.
“We have readings from Warrnambool that show the winds did drop and change to the west within a half-an-hour period. The Warrnambool reading is not exactly what would have happened at Flaxmans, but it’s indicative.
“We know they landed in the water, so we assume the wind dropped or changed and they were out of reach of a safe landing area,” he said.