I was in Columbia on vacation, I’d joined Richi & Annie of Vuelo Libre for 10 days of paragliding in Bucaramanga, Richi’s home town. I arrived with my wife Kerry on Feb 11th 2006 and proceeded to enjoy some great paragliding. Russell Agnew was my flying buddy for the trip and he kept a great online journal documenting the flying sites and his experiences in Colombia. If you’re a paraglider pilot you really should consider joining Richi for a trip, Bucaramanga is a beautiful place to fly!
So, on to the fateful day. It was Feb 18th and this was the last day flying the mesa (see photo of launch) as we were then heading to the last flying site of the trip. We’d been flying every day so far…and as they say familiarity breeds contempt.
I launched straight into lift and circled over launch to see Kerry just getting out of the truck with her camera (she’d been trying to clean the lens). I suddenly realized I hadn’t given her our customary kiss before takeoff…strange (and perhaps portentous) that I thought “just my luck to kill myself today after not kissing her goodbye”…strike 1.
So I was flying XC (cross-county) with Russell, it had been a fun flight with both of us quickly getting to cloud base over launch and then deciding to head across the canyon to the far side. We easily got to the far side, arriving at what is called the “tram project” (where they’re currently building a tram, see photo). As we flew the ridge line heading to higher ground there wasn’t much lift and we both struggled to get any altitude. Russell headed back to the viewpoint (the house thermal) and got lift pretty much to cloud base while I struggled to find anything. Russell then headed back up the ridge. Not getting much altitude I headed back to the viewpoint also…it was at this time my GPS decided to run out of battery! Strike 2.
Russell landed while I was still climbing and I unfortunately didn’t see where. I headed in his direction but couldn’t spot him on the ground, I had good altitude so decided to push on (strike 3). I was now in unknown territory and as I pushed on I wasn’t finding much lift, rather than heading back to a safe landing I decided to push my luck and see if I could find something further along the ridge…
The rest is a bit sketchy, I remember heading to what seemed to be open ground to land. I remember pushing into a headwind as I headed over the top of the ridge-line, I still had good altitude at this time but I remember the alarm bells starting to ring. The next I remember I was low and coming in to land (can’t recall quite where or how I’d got there…very strange) when I spotted two power lines directly ahead…all I could do was bank my glider into a steep right hand turn to try to avoid them…not knowing what else I might hit.
I woke up on the ground in my harness with the sound of shouting as some locals came to my aid…I’d hit the power lines and from what I can gather my glider was still in the lines and I was on the ground in my harness.
I could see my left hand and arm was badly burnt…it was bent and I couldn’t straighten it. My left hand was gripping the brake handle and I had to pry my fingers apart to release it. My right leg was also badly burnt too. I had the presence of mind to call Richi on my cell phone and was lucky to have locals who where able to tell him where I was…he was 15 min away in the chase car with my wife Kerry. All I could say to the locals was “Ambulancia, hospitali”…as if that wasn’t obvious!
I got myself out of my harness and the locals helped my down an embankment, bundled me into their truck and drove me to the local clinic where they started to clean me up. I remember Richi and my Wife arriving at some point…I must have looked a mess. From there they took me to the main hospital in Bucaramanga, Clinica Carlos Ardila Lulle, and, thankfully given Richi’s contacts (his farther was a well-known Doctor in the area), into the hands of the top hand surgeon, Dr. Monroy Gelman. I was in pretty bad shape but damn lucky to be alive!
Thus began my recovery…