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Monday, November 26, 2007

Another Broken Aluminium Carabiner

Time to check your gear

For good reason, we generally do not depend on a lot of things in paragliding as being "fail-safe." However, for most, one of those perceived "fail-safe" items is our sturdy carabiners. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors - usually in two varieties of metal: steel or aluminum.

The photograph above was submitted to me by my good friend, Gerry Wingenbach who noticed this AFTER he had landed on the South Side of the Point of the Mountain. This could have been catastrophic as the carabiner could have failed at too low an altitude to get out a reserve.

It would seem that most every harness manufacturer (free flight and paramotor) chooses to use aluminum for their stock harness carabiners. And why not, they are less expensive and much lighter than their steel counterparts. However, I believe that steel is a better choice and that every pilot should have the facts to make his or her own decision.

In 1992, my then business partner, Tom Lyde, and I decided to move our climbing gear manufacturing company from Austin, TX to Salt Lake City, UT. Peter Metcalf (CEO of Black Diamond) offered us a very generous package for manufacturing space in their 3900 south facility. We continued to manufacture their climbing harnesses and sewn runners for a number of years. As a result, I worked with some of the great minds in manufacturing at BD and learned a lot about the aluminum carabiner.

Aluminum carabiners are strong for their weight and I generally trust them for climbing until I drop one. Aluminum has a nasty habit of forming micro fractures that, if formed in the wrong place, can significantly weaken the breaking strength. This is not to say that EVERY TIME you drop an aluminum carabiner that this happens, but it is possible in aluminum and NOT in steel. There are other factors as well, such as improperly side loading the carabiner or loading without the gate locked or fully closed.

For paragliding, I generally do not use aluminum carabiners unless I know the history of the biner and can verify through visual inspection that there are no possibilities of abuse that could result in weakening its strength. This is because I, and others that frequently handle my equipment, sometimes drop my harness unintentionally on hard surfaces and I always here that unmistakeable metallic "ting" sound of the carabiner as it hits.

In hang gliding, I have always used steel carabiners...we even call it out as a recommended specification for tandem operations in hang gliding and paragiding.

For paragliding and paramotoring, I have always used and sold the Austria Alpine steel locking carabiner. Austria Alpine has an aluminum version that looks identical, but that's the one in the photograph above, which I do not recommend. To date, this is the second aluminum Austria Alpine carabiner that I know of that has failed - the first was on my friend, Mike Kung. He had a similar situation as the one in the photo above - he fortunately noticed it before he flew.

So, take a good look at your carabiners. If they are aluminum, make a good visual inspection of the rounded corners - these are the potential trouble spots. If you see any nicks or dents, I would replace them immediately.

Please feel free to contact me if you want any further information on this. I would be glad to help you.

Also, if you have any relevant comments you would like to add you can post them below.

Be safe, have fun-

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