By David F. Rooney
As sports go, paragliding seems to offer the perfect balance of exhilaration and risk-taking. Last weekend those two forces merged atop Mount Mackenzie as 60 paragliders from across BC launched themselves in the air from the summit again and again in the course of the 2009 Homecoming celebration.
That went pretty well until early Saturday evening when one pilot was blown off course and came down in a forced landing in the CPR yard.
“We saw a paraglider coming down and just when he was about 30 feet up he just went straight down towards the ground in the CPR yards,” said eye-witness Greg Edwards. “He just missed the fence.”
He said he didn’t see the paraglider hit the ground because some trailers blocked his view but he later learned that the pilot was badly injured.
Local paraglider Thane Issert said the Vancouver-area paraglider broke both legs and his wrist. He is now recovering at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. The incident, which occurred when high wind gusts blew through the city late in the afternoon or early evening Saturday, marred what would have been an otherwise perfect weekend of paragliding above the Columbia River Valley.
“This has been a great weekend,” said Issert. “We had a great day on Saturday. The conditions were near perfect and we did a lot of… aerobatics over the RC (Remote-Control) Club’s runway out by Montana Slough. But this?”
Isster’s last comment was directed at the mixed wind conditions and generally cooler temperatures — at least at high elevations, that kep paragliders out of the air for more than an hour on Sunday morning.
“It’s all wrong,” he said as he sat in the heather and watched a wind sock fluttering in different directions. “The wind’s wrong. The weather’s wrong and there’s a severe weather warning out for last part of the day.”
But shortly afterwards the wind shifted and one waiting paraglider was lofted into the air. She was swiftly followed by more who voyaged through what Issert likened to an “ocean of air.”
“It’s just like a watery ocean,” he said. “It has currents and upwellings and cold spots. It’s like sailing on an ocean of air.”
Here are photos of the Sunday’s first flights of the day: