A wild ride
A champion paraglider is being described as “the luckiest woman alive” after being caught in a storm that sucked her to an altitude higher than Mount Everest.
Ewa Wisnierska is believed to have flown unconscious for almost one hour through a violent thunderstorm that catapulted her to the cruise altitude of a jumbo jet and left her body heavily bruised and covered in ice.
Her paraglider came through the storm intact and she landed 60km (37 miles) from her launch site. Ms Wisnierska, 35, was treated in hospital for severe frostbite injuries to her face but was otherwise unharmed.
He Zhongpin, a Chinese paraglider who flew into the same storm, was found dead on Thursday, 75km from his launch site. He is believed to have suffocated or frozen to death after being sucked up into the centre of the storm.
Mr He had ten years’ experience in the sport and was a member of the Chinese national paragliding team. Police were analysing data that was retrieved from his GPS instruments to map his flight path.
The paragliders were among 200 taking part in a routine training exercise in New South Wales for the world championships, to be held next week.
Speaking from her hospital bed yesterday Ms Wisnierska, a German of Polish descent who is ranked among the top paragliders in Europe, described her journey through the violent storm. “You can’t imagine the power — you feel like nothing, like a leaf from a tree going up,” she said. “I was shaking all the time. The last thing I remember it was dark. I could hear lightning all around me. I knew I was in the middle of a thunderstorm and I could not do anything.”
Ms Wisnierska said that she knew that her chances of survival were “almost zero”. “I knew I can only have luck, I can’t do anything —. . . and I got it,” she said.
Her paraglider was equipped with a tracking system that clocked her ascent at 20m (65ft) a second once the storm began to suck her upwards, eventually reaching a height of 9,946m (32,000ft).
Her descent was recorded at 33m a second. “I wanted to fly around the clouds but I got sucked up into it and started to spiral,” Ms Wisnierska said. “I was thinking, I can’t do anything, so I only have to wait and hope that the clouds were bringing me out somewhere. Then I woke up and was thinking I was maybe unconscious for one minute. I didn’t know I was unconscious for so long.”
She woke more than 45 minutes later and at a height of 6,900m to find herself still stuck in the storm, surrounded by darkness and with her gloves frozen. “I saw my hands and the gloves were frozen and I didn’t have the brakes, and the glider was still flying on its own. It was amazing because the glider was still flying. I don’t know how it is possible because there was hail everywhere.”
Despite being dazed from a lack of oxygen, Ms Wisnierska turned her attention after escaping the storm clouds to getting back to ground. She picked out a farm in the distance and was able to land safely. Her crew tracked her down by radio.
Doctors later told her that her blackout may have saved her life, because her heart and body slowed down. Temperatures at a height of 9,000m drop below minus 40C.
Godfrey Wenness, president of the Manilla Sky Sailors Club and an organiser of the world championships, compared her survival to winning the lottery “10 times in a row”. “I would say she is the luckiest woman in the world right now,” he said.
“The Chinese man died, she survived. There’s no logical reason why she got away with it.” He said that the storm cell had been building since the early morning and that all paragliders had been briefed about the danger before beginning their training flights.
Mr Wenness said that the world championships would begin on schedule on February 24, despite the death of Mr He.
Ms Wisnierska said that she still hopes to compete in the competition. “Flying is too fantastic to stop because of an accident,” she said.
This month Nicky Moss, a member of the British team in the world championships, was attacked by eagles with a wing span of almost 3m, sending her into freefall 2,500m above the Australian Outback as she prepared for the event.
The huge wedge-tailed eagles, with a wing span of almost 3m, shredded the fabric wing of her paraglider, and became entangled in her lines.Ms Moss, 38, regained control of her paraglider and landed safely in a paddock.
Original article posted here.