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I am posting the report my husband, Paul Tjaden, just wrote about Zach Marzec's death at Quest. It is a great tragedy to lose someone so young and vital. We are sick about it, and our hearts go out to his friends, family and loved ones.
Lauren Tjaden

A few days ago I promised that I would write a more complete accident report regarding the tragic hang gliding accident we recently had at Quest Air resulting in the death of our good friend, Zach Marzec. I do want to warn you in advance that there will be no great revelations from what you already know. Many times Zach flew with a video camera which could have possibly told us more but on this occasion he did not.
The weather conditions seemed quite benign. It was a typical winter day in central Florida with sunny skies, moderate temperatures and a light south west wind. It was, however, a high pressure, dry air day that sometimes creates punchy conditions with small, tight, strong thermals versus the big fat soft ones that Florida is famous for. Time of day was approximately 3:00. None of these conditions were even slightly alarming or would have caused any concern about launching.
Zach Marzec was an advanced rated pilot who was a tandem instructor for Kitty Hawk Kites where he logged a huge number of aerotow flights. He was current (flying every day) and was flying his personal glider that he was very familiar with and had towed many times. Sorry, I do not have specific numbers of hours or flights logged but experience does not appear to have been an issue.
The glider was a Moyes Xtralite. This glider was a fairly old design. I believe the last ones built were in the mid 1990’s, but it was in good, airworthy condition and rigged properly. I know of no reports that this glider is difficult to tow or has any deficiencies for aero towing but I am not an expert on it and have never flown one. The glider hit base tube first and sustained very little damage upon impact so it was easy to ascertain that the glider did not appear to have had any structural failure that would have caused the accident.
The tow aircraft was a Moyes Dragonfly with a 914 Rotax engine and was piloted by a highly experienced tow pilot. The tow line was approximately 250 feet long which is standard and Zach was using the “pro tow” method where the tow line is attached directly to a bridle on the pilot’s harness and is not attached to the glider at all. A standard 130 pound test weak link was being used.
Another pilot had launched with no issues immediately before the accident. The launch started on the main runway at the north end (2,000 feet long) and was normal until at approximately 50 feet in altitude when the tow plane hit extremely strong lift elevating it quickly and abruptly. Because of the length of the tow line, it was a few seconds later when Zach’s glider entered the same strong lift and he was at an estimated 100 to 150 feet in altitude at this time. When the lift/turbulence was encountered, the weak link on the tow line broke as the nose of the glider pitched up quickly to a very high angle of attack. Apparently, the glider stalled or possibly did a short tail slide and then stalled and then nosed down and tumbled. Eye witnesses said the glider tumbled twice and then struck the ground with the base tube low. Due to the extremely low altitude, there was no time for the pilot to deploy his reserve parachute.
Zach was conscious immediately after the accident but died in route to the hospital.
Beyond these facts anything else would be pure speculation. I have personally had numerous weak link breaks on tow, both low and high, after hitting turbulence and have never felt in danger of a tumble. I have witnessed countless others have weak link breaks with no serious problems. We train aero tow pilots how to handle this situation and I am certain that Zach had also encountered this situation many times before and knew how to react properly. Apparently, Zach simply hit strong low level turbulence, probably a dust devil that could not be seen due to the lack of dust in Florida, the nose went too high and he tumbled at a very low altitude.
Strong dust devils in Florida definitely do exist even though they are rare. My wife had a near miss when she encountered a severe dusty a couple years ago and I almost lost a brand new $18,000 ATOS VX when it was torn from its tie down and thrown upside down.
I wish I could shed more light on this accident but I am afraid this is all we know and probably will know. Zach was a great guy with an incredible outlook and zest for life. He will be sorely missed.
Paul Tjaden
User avatar
By slimchance
Tragic. So sorry for "our" loss.
Thanks for the report.

Rest in peace bro

User avatar
Thank You Paul for writing the accident report and Lauren for posting it here. I didn't get the pleasure to meet Zack but the videos he made brought joy to me and my family (I rarely bother my wife with hanggliding videos).
User avatar
By mlbco

Thanks so much for writing this report. There have been countless serious HG accidents in recent years that never were properly investigated or reported and I'm glad you took on the tough task of writing one for this tragic accident.

Steve Morris
User avatar
By davisstraub
Scare asks:

Could he have been low enough, relative to the tug, that the prop wash could have changed the glider's normal stall recovery into a tumble?

I’m wondering about that also. As the tug is jerked up the pilot should go through the prop wash just as he hits the thermal.
By Phoenix
I never knew Zack, but I know Zack.

Even beyond the video that Jonathan Dietch graciously posted on this site, there is not one of us that does not wish to share the amazing experience, the true gift that being able to fly brings.

Through Youtube, it is perhaps easier to communicate, but still not the reality.

In reality, it matters not then length of the video, the resolution of pixels, the thumbs up or down.

Yet, from what I am able to gather on the internet about Zack, in the "Youtube" of the real world; that was an "Epic Win!!!", that life.

As Slimchance said, its "our" loss, funny even after their gone, some folks bring us together. Let's carry on like Zack!
User avatar
By BubbleBoy
Thanks for the report. Well done.

By Fletcher
Thank you for writing that report, sorry you had to.

We all, or we should, know the risks involved with avation and most continue to fly,
because risks or not it's a part of who we are.
I for one have enjoyed a much fuller life experience since becoming a part of this flight community.
We don't know when our last day in this life will be so I feel it's important to live to the fullest and to let those we love know how much they're loved.

So to all my brothers and sisters
Fly High Be Free
User avatar
By boarini2003
May he rest in peace.

When faced with these incidents, one always looks for the underlying lesson, in order to learn from others. In this case though, the only lesson I can learn is that life is fragile and we should live life to the fullest.
User avatar
By thermalfinder
I've had links break on payout/scooter tow and aerotow and the AOA is higher
on the payout tow. Seems strange to encounter turb strong enough to cause
glider to whip-stall and tumble like that

User avatar
By Flyking
Thanks Quest for the informitive report ! Sounds like a freak accident that happened too low to the ground :cry: The glider has been known to be a very stable glider :shock: . My condolences to all family and friends of Zach. I feel like I knew him already :cry: He will be missed. Fly high and watch over us brother :cry: . "Fly-King"
User avatar
By Scott Prell
I never met Zach Marzec, but he was a member of the fam one evening when I showed his "A Whole New World" video to my entire family:

I've watched that video a number of times. The joy is evident. Wish I had met the man. My condolences to his family, girlfriend, and friends.
By Guest
A tragic loss.

From having witnessed hundreds of tow launches in mid day thermal conditions, I imagined that as the tug rose quickly in the lift, Zachary found himself very low in relation to the tug and with his airspeed dropping ( the result of the tug going up more than going forward.) Your description is somewhat vague when describing the events occurring from the 50' level to the 150' level, but I imagined Zachary might have pushed out hard to try to "catch up" to the tug's altitude (even before the tug leveled out or began to descend to his level) resulting in a high AOA, slow relative airspeed, a small but strong thermal, and then the weaklink breaks. The horror...

How could this combination of factors have ended any differently? What options did either pilot have at that moment in time?

Despite the excellent safety record of the (modern) tow program, I think all pilots must accept that this could happen to them in mid day conditions, regardless of their experience or the glider they happen to be flying. I know of many HG pilots who no longer tow for this reason- they are wary enough of the conditions present or possible in a super-heated LZ but are unwilling to accept the additional risk when the added complexity of the tow is factored into the equation. In fact, There is a small group of experienced pilots at LMFP (and Henson's) that will not foot launch mid day - because no matter how soarable it looks, there is a distinct possibility that they will have to land in the super-heated LZ sooner than they wish. Especially on high pressure days and especially on light wind days, when thermals present could mean a 180 degree wind switch while you are on final (a thermal you yourself triggered, perhaps?) Strong & Variable, if you will. It's ironic that the best thermal soaring conditions frequently result in the worst launching/landing conditions here in the Southeastern U.S. (dammit! That's it- I'm getting some wheels!) The tow guys know this all too well, and that's why the LMFP tugs have the 914 Turbo option- to get the hell up and away A.S.A.P. with power to spare.

When hearing horror stories like this latest fatality, I'm reminded of Mike Meier's excellent essay "Why Can't We Get A Handle On This Safety Thing? Loosely translated here; In mid-day, high pressure thermal conditions, anything can happen, and, over time, everything will happen. You may not ever be able to predict or prevent their occurrence, and you may not be able to react properly. You can only choose the time you launch, or whether or not you will launch. You may be able to choose the moment you will land. Maybe...
User avatar
By fakeDecoy
Did he live in Reno or thereabouts a couple years ago?
User avatar
By Paul H
fakeDecoy wrote:Did he live in Reno or thereabouts a couple years ago?
You're probably thinking of Zac (Zippy) Majors.
User avatar
By ChattaroyMan
From the report .... that's a lot to be going on so close to the ground! I'm thinking .... why wasn't the chute thrown? .... then I try to visualize myself in a similar rapid action situation and all I can think of what I'd do is to hold on. I think I'd be so concerned with controlling the glider and/or keeping myself in a position to control the glider that I'd not let go of the basetube to grab the chute; even with one hand. Whether a chute thrown at Zach's altitude would have deployed in the conditions experienced .... we won't know. Even if a ballistic chute of sorts was on board it still would need to be activated - by hand likely. A time may come where we just have to put all our efforts into getting a chute out over our ingrained nature to control our craft - and hope we've made the right choice.

Thanks for the report. Take care all of you at Quest. Heal well. We're all hoping for the best that can transpire from this event in how everyone moves on and continues to take to the skies.
User avatar
By Hangskier
I only saw Zach a couple of times but did not have time to get to know him well due to he was working. The first time I met him I could tell he was passionate about flying.

I've never lost someone close to me before so I can not imagine the sorrow his close friends are going through. I offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends and his flying family at Quest and KHK

RIP Zach and enjoy that everlasting thermal!
User avatar
By BBJCaptain
Thanks for posting Paul's writeup

He will definitely be sorely missed by his family, Loved ones, friends and Brothers of Flight!!
From my family to Zach's, our deepest condolences. Rejoice in his life!!! Be satisfied in knowing he has touched so many peoples lifes!

I was lucky enough to stumble onto Zach's "A Whole New World" video before his accident and my first thought was......Man, all of
this guys dreams had come true! It was very obvious that he was in Love with Life, Flight and this girl!! Having never met Zach, I
couldn't help but be affected by his energy, I just had to show his video to my family, of coarse they loved it. Then a week later
I told my wife that Zach had sadly had an accident and was lost. Her first words where....at least he was enjoying something he
truly loved to do.

A smile came across my face that my Lovely Bride had said this. I had recently lost both of my parents in the same yr to
cancer(3yrs ago) at a very young age(68 & 69). I had stopped HG several yrs prior and that lose had brought me back to the
sport that had been such a big part of my life. Believe me she wasn't very happy with me for sure, nor were my sons. One
night before I went to pickup the glider that I had just bought, I sat here down on the couch and had a long talk with my soul mate.

She told me I was to old and a fool to start HG again and that I should thing about our family and grand kids and how they would
feel if something happened to me while HG. I thought for a minute before I spoke, you see I had been avoiding this
conversation for over 32 yrs. I told her......Baby, my dream is to pass away in my sleep at a very old age, with my arm around
you. If not my second chose would be to go out doing something that I love to do, like flying. That after watching both
of my parents suffer and knowing no one should have to go thur that. To be happy for me if I passed away flying, knowing I
would have wanted it that way. Not to go out in a car accident or something senseless like that.

I hope that Zach's family takes comfort in knowing that he was doing something that he truly loved to do!! Just remember that
he lived life larger that most people twice his age.

As fellow pilots, we owe it to our loved ones to remind them that if something unfortunate should ever happen to us while HG,
not to be sad for use but to rejoice in our choice to live life to the fullest.

Last edited by BBJCaptain on Fri Feb 08, 2013 8:39 am, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
By wonderwind_flyer
Thank you to Paul and Lauren for sharing more details on Zack's accident. I only got to know Zack for a few weeks last spring at Quest but it didn't take long to feel his generous, happy soul.

After reading Paul's report my first question is in regards to the pitch stability of Zack's Xtralite. I don't know the exact date of manufacture but the glider may have been approaching 20 years since it was made. I remember the glider being in pretty good condition cosmetically and structurally when I saw it last year but depending on the total flight hours, there may have been stretching of the sail. The trailing edge reflex wires can also elongate over time. These two stretching factors combined can change a glider's pitch characteristics in a non-positive direction ... especially when pitch positiveness is needed most.

It sounds like those few seconds in the air were quite complex for Zack ... and our hearts are still heavy. Fly in Peace.
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