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Sat, Dec 22, 2007

Famed German Glider Pilot Lost In Accident

Herbert Weiss Lost During Championships In NZ

Former German gliding champion Herbert Weiss was killed Friday, when his ASG 29 glider went down while participating in the FAI World GP Gliding Championships in New Zealand.

Weiss (right), 59, was flying near Omarama when his glider impacted a hillside above the Wilkins River, according to the New Zealand Press Association.

There are conflicting reports regarding when event organizers realized Weiss was in trouble. Like other participants' gliders, Weiss' plane was equipped with a GPS transponder so enthusiasts around the world could follow the race online... and, in theory, give organizers a heads-up to potential trouble.

That isn't what apparently happened. According to local reports, organizers did not alert the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand until nearly two hours after Weiss crashed. A helicopter search ended with the discovery of the Weiss's body on Friday evening.

The discrepancy may have been due to problems with the glider's transponder, race spokeswoman Victoria Murray-Orr told NZPA. She noted another aircraft's transponder had also failed during Thursday's race.

"The telemetry, like lots of modern technology isn't 100 percent failsafe," she said. "So when a pilot drops off the radar, so to speak, it's normally no cause for concern. The telemetry isn't there for safety reasons, but purely for animation research."

The championships began Wednesday, with 18 pilots from 11 countries competing. Racing was suspended Friday.

International Gliding Commission president Bob Henderson called Weiss' death a huge tragedy for the gliding community.

"Herbert was enjoying the event," Henderson said. "He saw it as a challenge and a chance to fly with the world's elite pilots."

Weiss, an economics teacher by trade, had over 8,600 hours since he began gliding in 1969. He was named German national champion twice, and qualified for the World Championships by winning the Slovakian qualifying grand prix in April 2006.

FMI: www.gpgliding.com/

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