Paragliding competition underway despite injury

May 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
From a cliff overlooking the Central Valley, 29 paragliders, 26 men and three women cast themselves to the wind and soared off into the sky.

Suspended in a cocoon like sling, under the flexible parachute- like wing. Most were carried aloft quickly, but, for some, it was a fast plunge toward the Valley floor, before catching a pocket of rising air.

"They rely on rising air trying to get altitude thermals, you know the thermals are unpredictable rising air and you can't see them. So they kind of have to blunder around until they find one and when they do that they will circle."

Veteran paraglider Jeff Huey, of Bend, Oregon is the race manager. He loves the sport, even though he was left partially paralyzed in a paragliding accident.

Huey said, "I broke my neck about 7 years ago."

ABC30 asked, "Doing this?"

Huey replied, "Doing this."

One pilot has been injured in this race. Thomas Moyes of Seattle suffered a broken ankle and broken tailbone when he crash landed near Porterville during Wednesday's leg of the race.

"It happens, just like any sort of aviation its inherently dangerous, we do have the occasional accident, we had one yesterday. Fortunately the injuries were minor," Huey said.

Paraglider Huntley Brocke of Montana says it's worth the risk.

"You are dangling around from some strings, bumped by the air and the air is just trying to suck you up and it's yeah, a lot of fun," said Brocke. "Can't describe it much better than that, free flight."

According to the American Paragliding Association there were 26 paragliding injuries in 2010, the last year statistics are available, and two fatalities.

"Very safe actually there's training we've all hopefully done, and we all have reserves and there's obviously some risk involved but its inherent and we all do it in spite of it," said Brocke.

Of the 29 paragliders who took off at noon on Thursday, seven had made it to the landing spot near Bakersfield as of 6:00 p.m. The others who landed along the way were picked up safely.

The competition continues Friday. The paragliders are expected to make a shorter flight. The final destination hasn't been determined but they are considering a landing spot near the Fresno County city of Orange Cove.


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