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Man makes emergency landing of paramotor on Reeves Beach in Riverhead

06/27/2019 5:55 AM |

A Coram man who was forced to make an emergency landing while gliding in an electric paramotor at Reeves Beach in Riverhead left the scene unharmed Monday afternoon.

John Rodriguez, 56, said he arrived at Reeves Beach in Riverhead early Monday morning with his daughters, Olivia, 15, and Cassie, 13, to fly his single-person 2017 Vittorazi paramotor.

After flying his regular eastbound route, he turned around and started heading west to return to where he took off.

As he descended to 800 feet, he realized he was facing an emergency: His machine had shut down and he ran out of gas. As he attempted to restart it, he focused on finding a landing spot, he said.

“When you train for this sport, the first thing they teach you is not to panic,” he said. “If you do, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way. If I was one to panic, I would not be in this sport.”

Before his flight, Mr. Rodriguez had inserted a flagpole with streamers attached to it into the ground at Reeves Beach to help him recognize the direction of the wind but he was about five miles away from where he planted it. He soon realized he was coming in hot and was forced to land in the direction the wind was blowing, which flyers try to avoid, he said.

As he swooped toward the shoreline, he dragged his feet to slow the impact, he said.

“I had no choice but to pull down, because ahead of me was this big, huge boulder,” he said. “I didn’t want to compromise myself on that rock.”

Mr. Rodriguez in the air. (Courtesy photo)

He landed unharmed in an empty area on the beach, though he said part of his machine took a beating — the cage, which protects the motor and propeller, was damaged.

After calling his daughters to explain what had happened, he walked along the shoreline with his parachute and motor for 45 minutes searching for help. As soon as he noticed a stairway entrance to the Willow Ponds on the Sound condominium community, he dropped the equipment.

A community member drove him back to his pickup truck and daughters. Mr. Rodriguez then drove back to the beach to collect all his equipment.

He soon faced another setback: His car became stuck in the sand after his four-wheel drive malfunctioned, a police report said. He contacted the Riverhead Police Department, who then requested Jimmy’s Jet Towing Inc. of Riverhead remove the car from the sand. Employee Trisha Burton said Mr. Rodriguez was able to fit the paramotor into the back of his truck and head home.

Mr. Rodriguez said he’s grateful that he was unharmed, but he was left with a reminder about the safety of paramotor gliding. The sport is unregulated, he said, which means gliders need to take more responsibility for their safety.

“We have to respect the sport, and really respect our surroundings to continue flying on Long Island,” he said. “We can’t put the sport in jeopardy.”

Mr. Rodriguez learned to paramotor glide three years ago, he said.

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