Summit man remembered after crash
Special to Sun News Service
A Soda Springs paragliding instructor and his student were killed Saturday afternoon when their glider slammed into a mountainside near Mount Rose Ski Area.
Instructor John Van Meter, 45 and owner of Donner Summit-based Wingtrip, and his student, Travis Kolvet, 21, of Fernley, Nev., were flying tandem when they crashed into Slide Mountain near Mount Rose Ski Resort’s east bowl at approximately 11:40 a.m.
Van Meter was pronounced dead on impact. Kolvet was airlifted to Washoe Medical Center and died after arriving at the hospital.
Paraglider and Incline Village resident Ed Youmans was standing next to the gliders as they launched on Saturday.
“Everything looked good until John’s feet left the ground,” said Youmans, who was a former student and close friend of Van Meter.
He said when the men took off it appeared as if Van Meter was sitting too far below Kolvet. When people fly tandem, the instructor sits in the back either at the same level or a few inches above the student so that he or she can see and operate the controls properly, Youmans said. When the pair took off Saturday, Youmans said he noticed Van Meter was hanging low and to the left side of the glider.
“From my perspective at the accident, something either wasn’t attached or the attachment failed at the launch,” Youmans said.
“This was a very tragic, terrible weekend for a lot of people and families,” he said. “Certainly no one would have expected this to happen. We lost a very good friend and great pilot.”
Van Meter leaves behind his wife of 15 years, Lori Van Meter.
John Van Meter began flying in 1990 with a powered parachute and paragliding in 1992. He was an advanced and tandem instructor certified by the United States Hangliding Association since 1996. When the Van Meters moved to Soda Springs in 1993, John Van Meter started Wingtrip, which provides paragliding instruction, gear and a Web site for gliders.
“I am amazed by the number of people who were affected by him,” Lori Van Meter said. “My phone just keep ringing off the hook with people with beautiful things to say, and it tells me how many people loved this guy.”
Kolvet, the student, was an upbeat person, had flown a solo “sled ride” flight earlier that morning in Washoe Valley and was taking off on his first thermal flight at the time of the accident, Youmans said.
“They were going to go for what we call a soaring flight,” Youmans said. “It’s where you climb above the launch and spend a good chunk of time in the air, sometimes a couple of hours. Travis was learning to fly from John and probably had more than 50 flights behind him, but he hadn’t flown in thermals yet. It’s all part of the learning process. You complete a flight in new conditions with an instructor first before you fly by yourself.”
Kolvet had been learning to fly with his future father-in-law who was also present at the time of the accident, along with an estimated dozen or more paragliders.
Conditions at the popular Slide Mountain launch pad were considered by paragliders to be ideal for thermal flights on Saturday.
Washoe County Detective Dennis Carry said the investigation to the cause of Saturday’s accident is still ongoing, but confirmed Youmans’ speculation that the accident appeared to be caused by a problem with the harness.
Slide Mountain is known among hangliders and paragliders for its generally favorable conditions, including good thermal lift, a quick dropoff and a large landing zone. The conditions, ideal for soaring, allow pilots to fly for as far as 60 to 80 miles, Youmans said.
In August 2004, a Truckee man died in a paragliding accident after he launched from the east bowl of Mount Rose Ski Area. However, he died later in his flight, after hitting a hill off the Bordertown exit near Reno Stead Air Force Base.
Between 1991 and 2005 there have been a total of 53 known paragliding fatalities in the United States, which calculates to an average annual fatality rate of 1.33 per 1,000 pilots, according to the 2005 Accident Summary compiled by the USHGA.
A memorial service will be held for John Van Meter on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mt. Rose Meadow off of Highway 431. Anyone wishing to make a donation to John’s wife Lori or to the Kolvet family can to so through Van Meter’s Web site at http://www.wingtrip.com.
A paraglider is an unpowered craft. It is easy to transport, easy to launch, and easy to land. The paraglider itself is constructed of nylon from which the pilot is suspended by sturdy kevlar lines. A tandem paraglider is larger than a single and set up for two people. With a paraglider you fly upwards on currents of air.
Paraglider pilots routinely stay aloft for three hours or more, climb to elevations of 15,000 feet, and go cross-country for vast distances.
The goal with cross-country paragliding is to launch and travel by circling in rising air, called thermals, to gain altitude. Then paragliders use that altitude to glide and cover distance until the next thermal.
Paragliding and hang gliding are very similar in terms of the sensation of flying. There are aspects that make each a little easier in some situations and more difficult in others. A paraglider is a bit faster to set up and put away, it folds up into a 30-pound backpack in about five minutes and can be easily transported in the trunk of a car, whereas a hang glider requires a roof rack for transport and takes at least twice as long to set up and take down, they generally weigh twice as much as a paraglider.
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