Members of North Shore Rescue say a paraglider is lucky to be alive after spending a night trapped on a snowy cliff ledge.
The team was called to assist the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad on Friday after two paragliders in a group of three collided, sending one of them plummeting to a ridgeline on the Beaufort Range.
“He was free-falling into the cliff there. He launched his reserve and it slowed him down just enough before he hit the ground to save his life,” said Jeff Yarnold. “If he had gone another 10 or 15 feet from where he crashed, he would be dead. It was a 500-foot cliff he was right on the edge of.”
The other two paragliders landed safely, marked their friend’s last GPS co-ordinates and called 911. Alberni Rescue members knew it would take days to reach the steep and remote area by foot and North Shore Rescue was the closest long-line team with a helicopter available.
“It’s actually not that far,” Yarnold said. “We can cut straight across the strait there. We’re only about 35 minutes away.”
When they arrived, Alberni members had pinpointed the paraglider’s GPS co-ordinates but there was no safe place to touch down, and the clouds were too thick to access the subject. With daylight waning, they contacted the man via radio to let him know he’d have to hunker down for the night, wrapped up in his paraglider for warmth.
North Shore Rescue members were back at the airport at first light Saturday only to find the weather had worsened, Yarnold said.
“It had snowed about five to 10 centimetres on him. It was just gross,” he said. “I don’t think he would have done too well with another night out there.”
With Yarnold and two other volunteers dangling on the long-line beneath the Talon helicopter, they waited until the clouds parted.
“It was just a quick grab. We probably touched the ground for five to 10 seconds and we were out of there,” he said.
When they were back on terra firma, they found the man had only minor hypothermia.
“Which is amazing,” Yarnold said. “Here’s a guy who crashed his paraglider at 4,500 feet into the mountainside and walks away. It’s a bit of a miracle actually that this guy survived. But guys get lucky, I guess.”
The man was grateful but a little miffed that the rescuers forced him to leave his expensive paraglider behind, Yarnold said.
Brad Falkenberg, search manager with the Alberni squad, said the teamwork was seamless.
“It is a big deal. Over the years, we’ve had more and more very large scale mountain rescues,” he said. “The need for these operations is escalating. It was quite a detailed and in-depth rescue. Very dangerous, as far as I’m concerned.”