A 63-year-old man died while taking a paragliding lesson in the North Okanagan Thursday morning.
Dave Underwood, owner of Freedom Paragliding School Ltd. that operates at the Freedom Flight Park near Lumby, confirmed the man died after falling roughly 25 feet during a solo training flight.
Underwood said the man was an experienced hang-glider who had learned how to hang-glide at the flight school 13 years ago, and was now learning how to paraglide.
He added that the man was doing what is called a “tow,” where a static winch is used to pull a student into the air along the park’s 2,000-foot grass runway. Underwood said the man had done four successful tows yesterday and one this morning, before the accident took place on the sixth tow, which would have sent him 500 to 600 feet in the air.
However, the man only made it 50 feet down the runway and 25 feet into the air when the accident occurred.
Underwood was the person operating the tow at the time.
“I’m 2,000 feet away but on the radio I brought up the wing and everything looked great, and I started to pull him up,” Underwood said. “Right away I could hear the instructor on the radio yelling ‘hands up, hands up’ to let the glider fly. If you have your hand all the way down then it can stall the glider, and that’s what happened. From about 25 feet up he stalled the glider and landed hard on his back.”
Underwood said he started CPR until paramedics and police arrived, but to no avail.
He said the Coroners Service, which is investigating, believed it is possible the man experienced a medical incident while in the air that caused him to have his hands locked down.
“It’s very strange (because) he’s an experienced pilot, he knew what to do, he did five tows previously.”
Underwood said there is minimal difference between learning how to hang-glide and learning how to paraglide; the school teaches both and uses the same system for each method.
He said the man’s death has hit the paragliding school hard.
“We’re a close-knit community so it’s tough.”