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Stranded on top of an Alpine mountain


Thio Christian is an expert paraglider and flies professional tandem outings in Locarno. His flight history is logged here. This year, during the cross-country season in the southern part of the Alps, he realised the true value of a satellite messenger:

One fine day this spring, I set out on a cross-country flight near Bellinzona with another four pilots. Weather conditions were good with a little westward wind which occasionally made it hard to get the thermals right.

After 67km of straight flights from east to west, we made a turn in Italy, not far from the Wallis Alps in the Bognanco Valley. The new route took us north-east towards Switzerland. The conditions were much better up north. The flight was a joy!

Close to Airolo, after another 45km I turned south-east. I had been in the air for five hours and lost all my friends along the way. But this is quite normal on a cross country flight: You often fly alone, because others make different flight decisions and choose alternative routes while in the air.

After 150km I was thermalling over the Cima Bianca 2612m in the Verzasca valley. I flew just 20m above the summit and then I headed north towards Poncione di Croara at 2574m. At that point, I did a very stupid and dangerous manoeuver close to the ground in the hope of getting round some rocks without losing too much height.

I was on the lee side of the Cima Bianca when the wind made my harness hit the rocks. As with any impact while flying at 30km/h, I completely lost balance and somersaulted several times over the rocks. It was very steep and it hurt.

I fell 40m in 10 seconds and amazingly ended up landing on slushy snow and I was not seriously injured.

It sounds crazy now, but the first thing I did was to push the OK button on my SPOT satellite messenger knowing that friends back home would be tracking my flight online.

A few seconds later, as I took in the reality of the situation, I came to my senses. I was in a dangerous spot, the glider and harness were damaged, I had no mobile phone signal and my radio was broken.

I still couldn't believe that I was not seriously hurt! But, it was far too dangerous to attempt a descent alone. I was in no doubt that I had to call the emergency services so I lifted the small protective cover and pushed the SOS button on my SPOT.

I was reassured that I have always regularly checked that the LEDs on my SPOT are blinking and that I had changed the batteries recently. 

There was a significant risk of snow sliding or even an avalanche, so I moved to a safer spot. I have to admit that time dragged and after waiting half an hour, I started doubting that the rescue system would work. I had to be patient.

After an hour I heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. The REGA helicopter flew close to evaluate the situation but the crew soon realised there was no chance they could land. They had to haul me up with their long line and I had to leave the harness and paraglider behind. It was almost 19:15 local time but I was safe.

Link to this flight (for privacy reasons, the crashing location is canceled from this tracking):