Not all sky pilots as flighty as 'Fan'

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 09, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

In our never-ending quest for deeper truth and higher meaning, we bring you this public-service announcement on behalf of all those who jump out of airplanes and off of cliffs for fun.

That guy was not a sky diver.

Nor was he a hang-glider.

He was . . .

"An idiot," said Mike Schultz, the owner of Aquafoil, a sky-diving school in Crofton.

And you thought James Miller was a descendant of Orville Wright.

Alas, every great historical event produces its casualties, and such is the case with the Flight of the Fan Man.

Forget Riddick Bowe's pregnant wife, Judy, who fainted after Miller crashed Saturday night's heavyweight championship fight, and Bowe's trainer, Eddie Futch, who had heart palpitations.

Both were released from a Las Vegas hospital Sunday morning, but the aviation community might not recover as quickly, now that Miller has been charged with "dangerous flying" of a motorized parasail.

"The government agencies look at stuff like this and say, 'They're out of control. Let's shut 'em down,' " said Richard Hayes, president of the Maryland School of Hang Gliding.

Shut 'em down -- as if J. Edgar Hoover were running the FAA. The sky pilots of the world were full of such conspiracy talk yesterday, when they should have been planning an exhibition to be promoted by Don King.

"Sky divers, parachutists, hang-gliders, we're viewed in the same light as bungee jumpers -- you've got to be nuts, and it's dangerous as hell," Hayes continued.

"We've worked very hard to establish an excellent safety record in the sport of hang gliding, and we have the data to back it up. Then, when you have someone pull a stunt like this, it all falls under the heading, 'If it flies, you're a loon.' "

You said it, Richard, not us.

Anyway, Hayes wasn't the only one upset.

"I was listening to one of those AM sports programs out of Chicago, and the people were using some rather serious epithets," Schultz said. "I want to be certain people recognize that the guy was not a sky diver. I said the same thing -- what an idiot."

Al Gramando, president of Skydive Chambersburg in Chambersburg, Pa., and national director of the United States Parchutists Association, also couldn't wait to set the record straight.

"We're offended by it," Gramando said. "They keep calling the guy a sky diver and he's not. He didn't go out of an airplane. The thing took off from the ground. It's a toy, a very expensive toy. It's totally motorized. It just happens to use a parachute as a lifting wing."

Gramando then launched into a detailed explanation of Miller's contraption, failing to recognize that the average sports fan can't build a model airplane, much less debate the merits of a flexible wing.

The motorized parasail includes a gasoline engine, a different type of parachute than the one used by sky divers, and a caged propeller that resembles a tabletop fan. Gramando estimated that it costs $6,000-$7,000.

"You can't go anywhere with it -- it just hovers," Gramando said. "It doesn't have any real power -- just enough to get you airborne and keep you airborne until you run out of gas.

"You go where you want to go. But if you're flying into the wind, it takes you longer to get there. It surprised me he landed where he did [on the ropes]. Evidently, he wasn't very good, or he would have landed in the middle of the ring."

In other words, the community was done in by one of its own -- and an incompetent at that! Miller reportedly is a member of the British Club of Paragliding in Gene, Nev. Maybe he didn't know there was a canopy over the boxing ring.

"We had enough of a beef when that guy Sergio jumped into a Mets game a few years back, but we've pretty much lived that one down," said Schultz, the owner of Aquafoil. "It was an extremely reckless act. He could have very easily injured someone seriously."

Sergio?

Oh, forget it.

According to Hayes, Miller broke several FAA regulations, from flying at night to flying over a crowd. But "dangerous flying" is only a misdemeanor in Las Vegas, and police set him free on $200 bail.

To Hayes, the punishment didn't fit the crime. In fact, Hayes said he was pleased to see Miller attacked by angry spectators at ringside.

"I thought it was an absolute riot," the hang glider said. "That's exactly what he deserved."

All right, Richard, enough gloating.

Now go jump off a cliff.

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