I took this photograph at Lennox Head which is just south of where I live on the Gold Coast (Australia). I was there with a friend, who is a hang-gliding enthusiast, and she told me about the thrills of the sport. I said some of them sounded decidedly scary. If I took up anything similar, I’d go for paragliding … it looked far safer.
‘No way!’ she said. ‘You could end up in the stratosphere.’
She explained that one of the dangers of paragliding is STORM RIDING. Skilled practitioners are always on the lookout for spots where air is rising. In competitions, those who are adept at finding them win out. They detect an area of uplift and make for it. Sometimes they are too clever for their own good.
The rising body of air might develop into a formidable convective cell. That’s what happens when ferocious thunder storms get underway. The air rises to immense heights and the paraglider is carried up with it.
Eva Wisnierska suffered that fate when she was taking part in a training flight for a World Championship Meeting in Manila, NSW, Australia.
The German paraglider survived lightning, pounding hail, minus 40-degree temperatures and oxygen deprivation after she was carried to an altitude higher than Mount Everest.
She passed out from lack of oxygen and flew unconscious for about an hour, covered in ice, at an altitude of 10,000 metres … the cruising height of an airliner.
Eva says she thought she had no chance of survival. A doctor said blacking out had saved her life. Her heart and other bodily functions slowed down and she went into a state of suspended animation.
Eva’s top speed of ascent was 20 metre/sec and top speed of descent was 33 metre/sec, as recorded by her personal monitoring computer.
Her injuries were severe. Eva suffered frostbite and bruising from huge hailstones. She landed 60 kilometres away from the launch site and was rushed to hospital.
A fellow paraglider was not so lucky. The body of He Zhongpin was found 75 kilometres away from the launch site. Investigators say he most likely suffocated and froze to death after being sucked into the same storm.
As an author, I am always on the lookout for amazing true stories. I used this one in my novel The Missing Miss Mori.