Paraglider makes unscheduled landing in tree

BROOKE GARDINER
Last updated 05:00 08/11/2012

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A paraglider spent more than two hours dangling about 60 metres up a tree in the Kiwi and Birdlife Park in central Queenstown yesterday after crash-landing when he failed to completely execute a new acrobatic move.

Ben Letham, 21, deployed his reserve chute before becoming tangled in a tree just before 10am and had a nerve-racking wait until arborist Abe Laguna could come to his rescue.

Mr Laguna said things could have gone either way.

"If you fall out of the sky, you're dead. The trees are a bit of a safety net."

Queenstown police oversaw the rescue and Sergeant Terry Wood said a helicopter was ruled out because of the possibility a downdraft could blow Mr Letham out of the tree.

Mr Laguna said climbing was the safest way to get someone out of a tree.

The decision also saved Mr Letham, who would be responsible for the costs of his rescue, a significant amount of money.

A helicopter would have cost about $5000 but he would be charged between $500 and $1000.

"I do the helping part of getting them out of the tree for free because I hope someone would do that for me."

Mr Letham, who was uninjured said he was "totally stoked" to have Mr Laguna there.

The experienced paraglider has been flying for 18 months and said he had never been caught in a tree before.

"It was just unlucky. I was trying something new and it went wrong."

"It all happened pretty quickly," he said.

The rescue operation took just 30 minutes and involved Mr Laguna scaling the tree to throw Mr Letham a rope in case the branch he was hanging from broke.

He then belayed him down safely.

Mr Letham was one of several paragliders jumping from Bobs Peak yesterday and was by no means the first to become tangled in trees in the park.

Park manager Paul Wilson, who co-ordinated the rescue, said he had asked commercial operators to spread the word that he was fed up with paragliders getting tangled in his trees.

"It could end up being really dangerous to someone. We've got the public around . . . we keep emphasising to them not to do it."

Yesterday's rescue took up four hours of Mr Wilson's time during a busy period. 

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- The Southland Times

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