A Florida man on vacation in Switzerland posted a video of his high-flying hang-gliding experience, and it immediately went viral. But, for that hang gliding company, it went viral for all the wrong reasons.
The video, entitled “Swiss Mishap” depicts the American adventure tourist and his hang glider pilot readying for takeoff… Then they fly up and off a cliff thousands of feet above the ground. Only problem: the tourist wasn’t properly strapped into the glider. Instead, he spent the entire two-plus minutes of the flight hanging on for dear life. The video, which enthralled more than 7.4 million viewers, as of this writing, was posted with subtitles explaining what the tourist was thinking and feeling during his harrowing experience.
At points the man hangs on to the bar on the glider, as well as the straps of the instructor. No move is ever made to attempt to strap him back into the glider, so, he was forced to let go before the aircraft came to a full stop, in order to avoid being seriously injured. Subsequent news stories have reported the man broke his wrist, requiring surgery, tore muscles in his arm, and may have suffered other injuries.
Barraged by reporters hoping for a comment, the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation Spokesman, Antonello Laveglia, said the agency was still investigating the incident, and planned to “reconstruct events” as well as interviewing the pilot in order to determine exactly what went wrong and who is ultimately responsible.
Because the hang gliding company in question has remained largely unconfirmed, the entire adventure aviation industry in that country has been forced to answer very uncomfortable questions about the safety of their programs. Speaking to the Associated Press, the director of the Swiss Hang Gliding Association, Christian Boppart, admitted the pilot made an error but also congratulated him for taking action: “The pilot knew he made a terrible mistake, but afterward he made a good save… The first lesson is that you check before starting that everything is good, and that everybody is attached.”
This statement has been met largely with scorn, especially online. Adventure tourism fans and consumers have loudly condemned the idea that the “lesson” here is that someone should check to make sure “everyone is attached”. That, they say, should not need to be taught. It should be obvious.
It’s this line of thinking that provides the most direct threat to the Swiss adventure tourism industry, and, by correlation, similar businesses in other countries. People want to know who is regulating these industries and, thus, who should be held responsible for “mistakes” as egregious as these.
These are questions the Swiss tourism industry will need to answer very quickly. The country draws millions of tourists each year who come for adventure sports in both winter and summer months. Now, though, there’s a cloud of doubt hanging over the industry. And, until specific people are held accountable, the entire industry needs to consider active counter-messaging.