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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Paragliding World Championships Manilla 

The 10th FAI Paragliding World Championships gets underway today at Manilla, Australia, 24th February - 9th March 2007. Manilla 2007 will be the first ever Paragliding World Championships to be held in an English speaking country and pilots from 45 countries will be competing.

Manilla offers a variety of landscapes including a series of wide flat and narrow river valleys, rolling hills and plateau country, low ridges, lakes and a volcanic feature with a peak at over 1400m. It’s only after flying 50-100kms out, depending on direction, that you get pure text book flatlands as far as the eye can see. There are static Google pictures on the event web site.

Conditions can vary from strong but smooth 5-8m/s 3500m+ blue days with 20km/h of wind drift, to easy cruising classic 3-5m/s days with clouds made in heaven, and right back to light scratchy 1m/s inverted tests of patience with winds in different directions at a few levels and a constant issue with bombing out. Miscalculated long glides, blue holes or bad tactics in sink zones often result in disappointing bomb outs but also amazing "low saves". The latter have almost attained legendary status in Manilla, as most that visit will find out. A moon shot climb up to 3000m which started from a little beep at less than 30m over the ground just before landing can be one of the most rewarding thermals a pilot can find – it’s the stuff of bar talk long into the night (of course the low save height gets lower and luckier with each beer)!

Mind you, these stories will now pale into insignificance, following last week's experiences. German, Ewa Wisnierska, 35, ranked number 1 in last year's world championships in Brazil, was sucked into a storm, which catapulted her upwards at speeds of up to 20 metres per second to a height of almost 10,000m; that's higher than the peak of Mt Everest and about the cruising height of a jumbo jet. Pounded by hail, almost struck by lightning, and covered in ice, she became unconscious but her kite continued flying in the storm system for 40 minutes before she came round and was able to pilot her craft to a safe landing. Her ground crew found her, about 60km from the launch site, still covered in ice.

Regrettably, Zhongpin He, a 42 year old, Chinese paraglider from Beijing who was sucked into the same storm, was not so lucky and he was found dead on Thursday, a day after the incident. A post-mortem has confirmed that he died after being struck by lightning. Zhongpin was well liked and respected in the paragliding community and the Chinese national team have withdrawn from the event out of respect. Ewa has made a full recovery and will be competing.

A daytime webcam has been provided on Mt Borah to view the championships.

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