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The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

To Heaven and Back.

The transfer geeps climb the rocky mountain road from sea level to 2000m 4 times a day. It takes 40 minutes and the temperature at the top is markedly colder. The first time I am freaked out by the precipitous drops and the casual approach the drivers have. I learn to tune it out over the next 2 days.

At the top is everything a paraglider dreams off. A gentle slope to take off from, views good enough to eat, steady thermals rising even higher, and a minimum of 30 minutes cruise through to a beach landing.

After 2 days I discover that this paradise can quickly turn to hell.

Day 2: I meet T on 8h30am truck up the mountain. We chat and both decide get out at the 1700m launch. By the time we get our wings ready the wind isn’t quite right anymore. Its frustrating but the sun is working on the air and it may come, we wait, and after 15 minutes I take the opportunity to launch. It’s low wind so I have to really run and I feel my leg twinge again. Perhaps its a tendon after all?

After a flight with only a bit of lift I transfer up again. I’m still learning how to catch the thermals, and at the top I’m surprised to see T again. He is pleased to see me. In the intervening 2 hours he has come up to the 1980m launch site. I suspect he’s walked which is quite a job with a glider on your back. He’s looking hot, dehydrated and flustered at not having found conditions to take off. I give him water and I chat with him. I lay out his wing and feel the wind with him. I sense he is reassured by the company. The day before he ended in a tree so today is especially important to rebuild his confidence. He’s had a lucky escape. In a few minutes he will have another even luckier one.

The wind backs and fold his wing down on the lines. I lay it out again, T checks his lines, and neither of us see that one of the lines is caught, or twisted or something. Perhaps the fatigue, and the heat are having an effect. It doesn't take much to miss a badly positioned line, and he's certainly laid out his glider a few times already this morning so the checks are perhaps less diligent. It's a good launch into a gentle headwind and only after he is in the air he and I both see the twist in the wing. The glider is flying straight but only because T is correcting with opposite brake.

My reaction, and I mime it out behind T form where I am stood on the launch site, is to shake out the brake line on the wrapped side. T’s reaction is the same. He does it and it sends the wing into a sharp right hand turn back into the mountain. He disappears and I’m sure the force of the impact against the rocky mountain has killed him.

I run down towards where he must be, calling his name and what a relief that him answers. He is shocked, doesn’t know where he is and his leg hurts. It turns out his heel bone is shattered but other than that he will be OK.

It takes a superhuman effort to get him back up to the launch site on a medieval wooden stretcher, after 2 other pilots slope away saying that the local rescue will help him. There is no local rescue, only the 5 of us that are left on the hill. My adrenalin masks the pain in my own leg. The ambulance, a series 2 or 3 Landrover, wheezes to the launch site and has to be bump started back down again after we put T inside.

The correct thing to have done would be to keep flying out away from the mountain before taking any action perhaps as far as the sea. But when you look up after launch and see your wing isn't that perfect shape it's hard to resist the instinct to react instantly.

I'm a novice pilot, and I wouldn't have had the experience to deal with that situation, but more frightening is to see how little support there is in an emergency.

I don’t fly any more that day. I don't feel the desire and I am mentally and physically exhausted. However I’m determined to fly again before I leave, so that this event isn’t my abiding memory, and the next day I am very lucky to be one of only a dozen pilots that to the air from a lower take off as the weather has changed and we catch a window. While I am in the air T’s heel bone is operated on. I pull off a tidy landing despite my nerves and dedicate it to T’s recovery.

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