Saturday, February 17, 2007

Storm sucks paraglider 'higher than Mt Everest'

Friday Feb 16 16:33 AEDT

A German paraglider is being hailed as "the luckiest woman in the world" after surviving a storm cell that sucked her higher than Mount Everest during a flight in northern NSW.

Ewa Wisnierska, 35, spent 40 minutes unconscious while being carried to a height of approximately 30,000 feet, where she was pounded by hail, narrowly avoided lightning and was covered in ice.

A 40-year-old Chinese paraglider sucked into the same storm cell was found dead on Thursday, a day after going missing.

Ms Wisnierska said she was unable to avoid the storm when it formed as she flew high above the rugged country.

"I was just praying, please, please put me somewhere away from the cloud," Ms Wisnierska said from her hotel room, where she was resting her bruised and frostbitten body.

As she was carried higher and higher into the atmosphere, to the equivalent of almost 1,000 feet above Everest's peak, Ms Wisnierska noticed ice forming on her sunglasses and instruments, before losing consciousness at about 20,000 feet.

Almost 40 minutes later, she awoke to find herself still stuck in the storm, surrounded by darkness.

"I was shaking and everything, but I thought I just need to fly straight and get out of this cloud," Ms Wisnierska said.

"I thought I need to go down just to warm up."

Despite being dazed and confused from a lack of oxygen, Ms Wisnierska turned her attention to getting back to ground after eventually escaping the storm clouds.
"I thought 'where could I land?'," Ms Wisnierska said.

"I couldn't see any road or anything, but then I saw a small farm, and tried to fly towards it, and landed very safe."

Unable to gather her thoughts to call for help, she waited alone for several minutes before her crew called on the radio, and were able to locate her.

They found her still covered with ice.

"I don't know who to thank, I thanked the angels, but I don't believe in God," Ms Wisnierska said.

Godfrey Wenness, the organiser of next week's championships, says Ms Wisnierska is the luckiest woman alive.

"This is like winning Lotto 10 times in a row, that's how lucky this woman is," Mr Wenness said.

"I would say she is the luckiest woman in the world right now, not exaggerating or being sensational at all.

"The Chinese man died, she survived, there's no logical reason why she got away with it."
Despite frostbite to her ears and legs, Ms Wisnierska says she still hopes to compete in the world championships.

"Flying is too fantastic to stop because of an accident," she said.

Organisers of the World Paragliding Championships have confirmed 42-year-old He Zhongpin, a pilot with the Chinese paragliding team, died after being sucked into a thunderstorm on Wednesday.

While an exact cause of death is yet to be determined, it is believed he died from a combination of extreme hypothermia and hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain.

While all pilots are extremely saddened by Mr He's death, the championships will continue as scheduled, organisers said.


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