Glider pilot says he didn’t see jet before collision |

Glider pilot says he didn’t see jet before collision

by Susie Vasquez
Nevada Appeal News Service

Glider pilot Akihiro Hirao said he didn’t see the jet that tore his wing off and sent his craft into a spin, according to Jim Braswell, airport manager at Minden-Tahoe Airport.

“The jet took part of the wing off, but the fuselage and other wing were intact,” Braswell said. “He was able to stand, pull the canopy off, and bail out.”

Flying a Schleicher ASW 27, Hirao, 57, parachuted to safety over Douglas County after 3 p.m. Monday, according to Tom Mezzetta, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

A Hawker XP800 jet collided with the glider as it was making its approach into Reno. The jet suffered minor damage and was able to make a successful emergency landing, without landing gear, at the Carson City Airport at 3:18 p.m.

A representative from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived Tuesday to start the investigation. The plane will be returned to managing company NetJets once this is complete.

The jet pilot received minor injuries, but the co-pilot and three passengers were unharmed, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. Pilot Annette Saunders was treated at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center and released the same day, according to the hospital spokeswoman.

There are no airspace restrictions over the Minden-Tahoe Airport and gliders can be difficult to see. The transponders that could alert aircraft to their presence are not required in gliders, Braswell said.

“A glider has the right-of-way for landings or during an approach, but in any other circumstance the rules are the same as any other aircraft,” he said. “Our jurisdiction is the ground space. Once a pilot is off the ground, it’s the (Federal Aviation Administration’s) responsibility.”

John Morgan, a glider pilot and Douglas County resident, said gliders are almost impossible to see when they are coming either toward or away from other planes.

There is no speed limit at 10,000 feet as long as planes don’t exceed the sound barrier. At those high speeds, gliders can easily remain undetected until it’s too late, Morgan said.

He is constantly on the alert for gliders when flying powered aircraft, Morgan said.

“You can see gliders from a mile away, maybe two,” he said. “If the sun happens to shine on their wings, maybe three. It’s not the easiest thing.”

Braswell said many glider pilots in the same situation don’t get a chance to bail out due to the plane’s attitude as it descends.

“It all depends on what kind of accident and whether they can get out or not,” he said. “This time, he was very fortunate.”

The glider was flying at an altitude of about 13,000 feet, and the pilot was on oxygen. He was part of a group of gliders flying that day, Braswell said.

Once on the ground, Hirao waited by his glider for almost two hours, but no one picked him up so he started walking.

Hirao had hiked about three miles before he was picked up at the mouth of Lone Pine Canyon in southeast Douglas County at 6:50 p.m. by Washoe Tribal police.

His general location was determined by Care Flight, who spotted the parachute on the ground. Lyon County Search and Rescue and six private aircraft joined the search, Mezzetta said.

The Carson City Airport reopened at 2 a.m. Tuesday after the plane was removed from the runway, said manager Yvon Weaver.

“It was a big job,” she said Tuesday. “I give kudos to everyone who stayed until 2 a.m. to make sure that airplane was secured.”

Using cranes to lift the front and back ends, the landing gear was lowered and the plane could be rolled into the El Aero hangar. Weaver Aircraft employee Jess Edwards constructed a tow bar attachment and a lifting mount to assist in moving the jet.

Morgan said he has a transponder in his glider, but installation can cost about $2,000, and a power source in these unpowered planes is a challenge.

“The way FAA rules are currently written, they don’t allow gliders to turn off their transponder in flight, but gliders often don’t have the power capacity to run them constantly,” Morgan said.

The rules need to allow a glider pilot the discretion to install a transponder and turn it on only when it’s deemed necessary, Morgan said.

“This sort of thing has been a concern for the gliding community for some time,” Morgan said. “We tried a couple of years ago to get an announcement on (Automated Weather Observation System). We’re supposedly getting a super AWOS, with a caution warning of heavy glider traffic.”

• Becky Bosshart at the Nevada Appeal contributed to this report. Contact reporter Susie Vasquez at or 782-5121, ext. 211.