COLUMN: Tragedy taps the memory bank

The horrific hang gliding accident near Harrison Mills this weekend brought back a lot of memories.

The horrific hang gliding accident near Harrison Mills this weekend brought back a lot of memories.

Back in 1974 an acquaintance of mine began rhapsodizing about the thrill of hang gliding, the freedom to soar like a bird. He was convincing, and that winter he and I set off for Calgary to take lessons. There the manufacturer of what was then the leading “kite” not only offered basic lessons, but levels that allowed one to assume the title “instructor.”

We took the advanced training, though in hindsight it was little more than a few extra “flights” down the slopes of a downtown park followed by a few more quick trips off the little hill outside his home in Cochrane.

While the training was rudimentary, the hang gliders at that time were even more so.

Fashioned of thin aluminum tubing supporting a triangle of nylon fabric, they were fragile units.

And unlike the harnesses now used to connect the rider (we preferred “pilot”) to the kite, all we had was a narrow wooden seat suspended like a child’s swing from the framework by 3/8ths inch nylon rope. Fortunately, there was also a little seat belt that kept your backside attached to the board.

In their day they were state of the art. In reality they were death traps.

But we flew them anyway, and in the winter/spring of 1975 I was one of the first hang gliding instructors on the Lower Mainland.

We used the slopes above where Abbotsford’s Sandy Hill Elementary now sits, and the south-facing hills just west of Mission, for training.

Those who “survived” the bumps and broken wrists of crash landings were taken for high-elevation flights off Vedder Mountain and eventually off the large mountain to the east of Osoyoos.

Carried over from my earlier days skydiving was the mandatory instruction that before every take-off, you had someone else double check your kite, and your attachment to it.

Unlike the tragic event this weekend, no one ever fell from their wing.

Unfortunately, though, crashes and fatal accidents did happen. Once in Grand Forks, a kite collapsed in mid-air. On another occasion off Mount Hope, a friend launched into the downdraft created by the mountain’s shadow, and died in Silver Creek.

That, and a few crashes of my own, including flying into a wind shear over an irrigated alfalfa field in Osoyoos that caused the ground to come up very quickly, caused me to reassess my thrill seeking.

After a couple of years, my kites were hung up, so to speak. There still rests within my barn a few wing spars from my old hang gliders, and a Canadian flag has flown proudly in front of my house for decades, suspended from an aluminum tube that once carried me aloft.

But despite the near misses those many years ago, and even hearing about the young woman who plunged to her death, every time I watch a duck swoop into the pond out back, or seek a hawk gliding gracefully over the fields, I get the urge to “fly” again. At least today, if you are careful, and there’s no equipment failure, the sport is relatively more safe, and the adrenalin rush is incomparable.

Then I remember how important it is to see the sunset each day, and relegate back to memory those sometimes chilling, but always exciting, experiences of flight.

Just Posted

Xauni de Figeuiroa of Abbotsford has been selected to attend a virtual space camp hosted by the Canadian Space Agency at the end of July.
Abbotsford student selected to attend virtual space camp

Xauni de Figeuiroa among 52 youth selected from across Canada

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

A program of the Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation enables patients to thank their health-care workers.
Fraser Valley program enables patients to say thanks to their health-care workers

Philip Harris Grateful Patient Program offered through health care foundation

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read