Glider Meets Tree, Finds It Friendly
April 10, 1991: Halfway down Broad Street on a Wednesday evening, as Annie and I are on our way to the last of our Scuba lifesaving training, the pager informs me a hang glider has gone down into the trees off Sunset Point. Zoom--I'm turned around and headed back up the mountain.
At the Rock, I find Beth Elliott, Rescue Cheif Eddie Kean, two cops, and a small group of climbers and hang gliding folks peering out across the western slope of the mountain. Where are Ranger Dennis, Buddy, and the rest of the gang? Turns out they're down at the Eagle's Nest, trying to figure out if they should approach on the Upper Truck Road. Two of the hang glider guys have a radio and are apparently in contact with the downed pilot. Zoom--they disappear down the Bluff Trail, and we follow, chasing a rumor that the glider is about a mile south.
Sure enough, there it is, hanging ridiculously in the trees, twenty-five feet off the trail and about forty feet off the ground, a massive blue and white glider. The pilot, who is unhurt, is lowering dental floss yes, dental floss which he has brought for just such a contingency. The two guys with the radio, glider types who call themselves Crag and Thor, attach a climbing rope and the pilot pulls it up. At this point it looks like they may get him down all by themselves.
Picture chaos and confusion, television news cameras, darkness descending. Dennis, Buddy, Butch, and Steve Hudson finally arrive. I am learning what equipment to bring to get a man out of a tree: a lightweight cord suitable for throwing, ropes and haul systems, a saw for cutting branches and trees. It is taking us three times as long as it should to do this thing. Finally a line is thrown over the crook of the tree and Buddy climbs up to assist. Ken, the pilot, is lowered to the ground from above, and after cutting down a couple of small trees we get his glider down intact. On the news that night, a reporter says Ken was rescued with "ropes and a little bit of magic."
But the hang glider guys are the ones with the magic. They soar through the air carrying radios and dental floss. They have names like Crag and Thor. They live right there at the Flight Park, and all they care about in the whole world is flying in those kites, all their life long.
Epilogue: Although I was obviously enamored with the idea of hang gliding, but it was a few years before I finally began attempting it on my own. "Thor" in the story is no doubt Christian Thorenson, the legendary Lookout Mountain Flight Park instructor. Buzz Chalmers later give our team some specific training in how to extract pilots and gliders from trees.
As of 2011, twenty years after the fact, if you know the right spot to look, you can still see the small black cord that the pilot tied to the limb that was supporting him.
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