There was a time when hang gliding was considered a terribly dangerous extreme sport, with pilots playing dice with their lives every time they took to the skies. Today, the death rate is about 1 in 100,000 flights, a rate comparable to soccer or tennis.
Accidents are rare because of the expertise required of pilots. Rookies must undergo rigorous training regimens before they are allowed to push off a rock and fly by themselves. By that time, pilots know the signals of safe flight: geographic features that provide thermal updrafts, clouds that indicate wind speed and soaring birds taking advantage of ideal gliding conditions.
In Yosemite, hang gliders are only allowed to take off between the hours of 8 – 9 a.m. That means no thermal updrafts because of the rising air streams that form when the earth below is baked by the sun. Nevertheless, Yosemite gliders still find a way to cruise, cutting close to some of the most beautiful scenery in America. They can’t, however, stay aloft as long as gliders in other parts of the country.
Earlier this month, American Jonny Durand and Australian Dustin Martin took off from Zapata, Texas at 10 a.m. and landed nearly 12 hours later east of Lubbock. By the time they touched down, they had covered 474 miles — a new world record for distance covered using only the wind, sun and a wing.
You won’t see any records in the video above, but, around the 4 minute mark, you will see a perfect landing.