British Columbia

Paraglider survives mid-air collision and freezing night on Vancouver Island mountain

Rick Heatley was with a group of paragliders near Port Alberni Friday afternoon when disaster struck: a fellow paraglider he described as a novice made an incorrect manoeuvre and collided with him, sending him into an inescapable spiral.

'I'm happy to be alive,' pilot Rick Heatley said

Rick Heatley, barely visible within the red circle, huddled for warmth Friday night on Mount Hal before he was rescued Saturday morning. (North Shore Rescue/Facebook)

Days after a paragliding collision about 100 metres in the air left him stranded on a mountain, Rick Heatley says he's ready to soar again.

Heatley was with a group of paragliders Friday afternoon when disaster struck: a fellow paraglider he described as a novice made an incorrect manoeuvre and collided with him, sending him into an inescapable spiral.

"She accidentally turned and flew right into my flight path and I ended up wrapping her up in my glider, unfortunately," Heatley told  All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"It kind of destroyed my wing and as she went up through, it pulled out some lines and ripped some fabric.

"And it starts to spiral towards the ground."

The other pilot got free, Heatley said, but he was in an unrecoverable spin about 90 to 120 metres above the ground.

Luckily, he was able to deploy his reserve parachute and safely descend — he didn't crash and wound up landing on his feet, uninjured, amid the snow-covered trees of Mount Hal.

Heatley radioed to his friends that he was trapped on a very steep hill, and knew he wouldn't be able to walk down. He needed a helicopter rescue.

The helicopter came several hours later and was able to find him because he had his cell phone and a strong GPS signal.

But the fog had rolled in by this time and it became too unsafe to complete the rescue. He'd have to stay on the mountain overnight.

"I didn't have a sleeping bag or anything," Heatley said. "If you wrap yourself in your glider it actually makes a pretty nice little sleeping bag tent."

He hiked as far as he could before it got dark and then covered himself in his glider to avoid freezing.

The next morning, with conditions clearer, rescuers in a helicopter lifted him off the mountain using a longline

"I'm happy to be alive," he chuckled.

Despite his close call, Heatley says he has no plans to stop paragliding. He loves the freedom and the camaraderie of the sport too much.

"When you're out there flying around you can only think of what you're doing at that moment," he said.

"It's nice. It's freedom."

Listen to the full story:

Rick Heatley was with a group of paragliders near Port Alberni Friday afternoon when disaster struck: a fellow paraglider he described as a novice made an incorrect manoeuvre and collided with him, sending him into an inescapable spiral. 11:24

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West