Medellín Mid-air, Colombia (31 December)

2015 NYE was my most memorable ever, but for all the wrong reasons.

XT and I were having our second day flying with Juan (our host) from San Felix, Medellin. The conditions were perfect, the wind was not too strong and their were strong thermals, so everyone was talking about doing an XC over the back into the next valley.

The three of us were climbing out and just beneath cloudbase when a young girl we were thermalling with flew into XT!!! It was horrific to watch, I was right there but I couldn’t do anything. I was shouting as loud as I could for XT to throw her reserve as her wing was wrapped around the girl, but of course she couldn’t hear and the girl was so wrapped up she couldn’t do anything. The only luck in our favour was that the girls wing was still flying and we were still high.

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Click to see the Mid-air Video

All sorts of things were going through my mind (all bad) – I can’t loose my wife. I fought to control my breathing as I found myself getting tingly and dizzy from hyperventilating. It seemed an age, but XT threw her reserve perfectly and when it came out it finally pulled XTs wing from the girl and she started descending under the reserve, though alarmingly fast. The girl entered a fast spiral as her lines were twisted but she recovered ok and landed safely.

I was at least not panicking anymore, but extremely worried about where the reserve would take XT – the terrain being rough, with concrete buildings roads and nightmarish power lines. But I watched as she landed in a high tree and it was reassuring to see a local running towards where she was. I made a tricky landing in a nearby paddock and rushed to help.

The tree was massive and on a very steep and overgrown slope – very poor choice of landing! XT was OK – hanging upside down and mostly unhurt – just her ankle was sprained. And I knew she was ok when she was cursing the girl! 😉 The locals were great getting help from the local canyoning school. I was rushing around showing the police where to go, trying to locate Juan and Lina (his wife) to help assist when the branch she was on broke – people who’d come to help or watch were screaming. I rushed back but thankfully XT was hanging safely by her reserve which was still in the top of the tree.

After what seemed an age the climbers lowered her down safely – I’ve never been so relieved in my life. Many many thanks to all those who helped with the rescue, the locals and especially the two climbers who were calm and efficient and got XT down very efficiently indeed.

Later we watched my GoPro video; by luck I was close and got it all on film – you can clearly see the girl trying to turn inside everyone when she tightened her turn in front of XT. An inexperienced pilot flying in an unpredictable manner – we wish we’d been watching more carefully. By luck and by the good reactions of XT, both their lives were saved.

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Xiaotings Account

Conditions were looking good and a group of us were thinking about doing the big cross country flight into the next valley for the last day of 2014!

I caught a weak gentle thermal and was slowly climbing when I saw Juan and another pilot climbing faster near by so I put on full speed bar to join their thermal. I hit the edge first, a bit rough, then adjusted the turn to be inside more with others.

We are all doing big flat turns in thermal formation. When I saw one girl we met on launch doing erratic tight turns inside the formation. I watched her for a bit to see where she was going: she was just a little higher than me and flying in front of me. After another of her tight turns, she seemed to be flying directly away and few wing spans away from me. I thought that I was at safe distance, so I turned my attention to other gliders including my husband to check if I am still in sync with everyone. The next thing I know when I turned my attention back to the girl, she was flying directly at me on a downwind dash!!!! I was shocked and tried to turn away but it was too late! She flew directly into my lines!!!

After that, everything went in slow motion: She was wrapped around in my wing screaming! I immediately checked our height; we were high and as her wing was still flying and we were not dropping that fast. I tried to pull my wing away from her as she kept on screaming but she was wrapped around by the wing so tight that it was impossible. What the fuck!!! What do I do now??!! All my SIV classes were flashing through my mind and it seemed that there is no other option than throwing my reserve. So I waited until I felt both of us were stabilised under her wing, pulled my reserve and threw it as far as I could away from us. It seemed forever until the reserve finally opened!!! But the girl was still wrapped around my wing and both her wing and my reserve were flying! OMG, she could die or we both could die if we go like this into the ground!!! I started pulling my wing away from the girl as hard as I could and finally I heard a pop sound and the girl was freed (later when I was on the ground, I found that one of my A-lines of my wing was caught in the zip in her harness and the line was shredded with all the friction). As I pulled in the rest of my wing as quickly as I could, I saw the girl spiral down, regain her control and fly away – that was a moment of relief! Then I started to focus on the impossible situation I was in: hanging helplessly under my reserve with no directional control, and my sink alarm on my vario screaming on the top of its voice adding the unwanted dramatic effect. I was at the wind’s mercy: there were concrete houses, countless power lines, green pastures, barbe-wire fences, small pockets of forests in the direction where I was heading. I kept on practicing in my head the parachute landing (PLF) if I hit a flat surface and hoping hard that I won’t end up swaying into concrete walls or power lines. It was a bit turbulent down low and I could feel my parachute wobbling. Eventually a small patch of trees were looming large and the impact happened so fast I did not remember much, but I felt my right foot impacting on a branch and the next thing I knew, I was hanging upside down in my harness, my wing under me and me Iooking up at the blue sky and other pilots thermalling past.

Luckily, some local kid saw me land and a whole village gathered around me very quickly. They tried to rescue me but the tree was more than 10 meters tall and on a steep slope with thorny vegetation below. My husband landed near by and it was really reassuring to hear his voice. The branch that was holding me eventually broke but luckily my parachute was still caught firmly in the canopy. A group of local mountain climbers rescued me swiftly. I was on the ground with a twisted ankle, a broken line and a reserve to reassemble.

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After the branch broke :/

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Rescue!

Track log

Many thanks must go to the climbers who lowered me to safety, please check out their website for some alternative activities to flying in Medellin:.

Some afterthoughts from XT after the video spread wider than we anticipated: Thanks for every one who took time to analyse the video and gave your candid advice. I have learnt  my lessons in many hard ways. As many of you suggested, better look out and keep bigger distance is very important ! Hope this video can keep a healthy debate on how to thermal going and many can learn from it as I did from the incidence.

One thought on “Medellín Mid-air, Colombia (31 December)

  1. XT! I watched the video! I’m happy that you r safe! You did a good job! This means you will have a wonderful 2015 😉 you know What I mean 🙂

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