Sonya Bateson

Sonya is the education reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times.

(Update) 'I've never landed in a tree before'


A man left dangling 50m above the ground in a tree for three hours yesterday was at the centre of a dramatic rescue after a paragliding incident.

The paraglider, an Edgecumbe man who wanted to be known only as Steve, said he had paraglided from the spot overlooking Ohope many times before, but had never ended up in a tree.

Just after noon yesterday, four passengers in a car driving up the Ohope hill on Otarawairere Rd towards Whakatane saw the paraglider land in a pohutukawa tree on a cliff face above West End Rd. They called 111 and went to check on the paraglider.

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After being suspended in the tree for three hours, Steve was back on firm ground with only a nick on his finger to mark the experience.

"I've flown off here lots of times - but I've never landed in a tree before," he said.

"It was comfortable there, I had all the warm gear on. I was not at all worried."

Steve, a paraglider with a year's experience, said the take-off from the cliff on the edge of Otarawairere Rd was "pretty ordinary".

"That's just the nature of the business, you do go down. Normally when you take off, you climb immediately, this time I just went down and down. I was going to go left over the stock, but the trouble with that is it scares the stock. I turned to the right and completely destroyed my aircraft."

His daughter, a Whakatane High School student, said she was scared for her dad.

She came from school to keep her father company after a call from her mother and helped hold the parachute lines while rescuers winched in her father.

Police, the fire brigade and St Johns were quickly on the scene, with fire rescue and the Whakatane Emergency Response team (WERT) following soon after.

Whakatane police Senior Sergeant Bruce Jenkins said after police tied Steve to another branch in case he slipped, WERT was called in as they were trained in cliff rescues.

He said the Whakatane and Ohope fire brigades also helped with their ropes rescue teams and St John was there for the safety of everyone involved.

WERT team leader Aelan Keeber said pohutukawa trees tended to break easily, so the rescue needed to be planned carefully.

"We had to get some anchor points in with the tree so we could pull him back around. Once we had all the systems in place, we did standard checks while St John kept the patient amused.

"The team had to utilise the systems to manoeuvre the guy into a safer part of the tree ...

"Nothing went wrong, the only thing was the pohutukawa trees. I've been doing this now for 26 years and the ground around them with the clay material isn't solid enough to get good anchors up."

 

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- Rotorua Daily Post

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