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Originally printed in the VWS Newsletter Jan/Feb 2012

The Great Parachute Rescue

By Leon Visser

For my 50th birthday I took myself and my 3 grown children for a tandem skydive in Mosselbay over the Dec/Jan holidays. Tracy my wife – kept her feet firmly on the ground and opted for rather taking photos! Well, after a truly awesome experience freefalling for 40 seconds and gliding for a further 5 minutes, the instructor told me about a problem they have in Sedgefield where paragliders routinely get stuck in the wooded mountainside, on the north side, as you approach the village.

“Do you know about the ‘chute stuck in the tree? It’s been there for 6 months” he asked.

“No” I said, “but I have tree climbing skills – I am pretty sure it will be possible to retrieve it. How was the paraglider rescued?”

“It was a major battle – the fire fighting department had to use ladders, but they left the chute as it was too high up”

Well, the very next day I was off to find the ‘chute. Here was an opportunity that could not be passed by! The question was whether it would be do-able to retrieve – I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try.

After a fair bit of driving around, I eventually found the launch site nearby, so phoned a number on the notice-board and was directed to the tree by phone – much to he excitement of the official who was anxious that this bad advert for paragliding be removed from public view.

vws pics

As it turned out, the ‘chute was stuck high in a gum tree, wrapped around another spindly pine as well – and about 1/3rd of the way up a bushy slope. After a scratchy bush-whack in shorts, I got ot the base of the tree and proceeded to move up in stages using my ropes and throwlines until I reached the top – a rather thin top, I have to add. Tying off safely, I was able to fre the lines, cut the ‘chute loose from the nearby pine and stuff the whole thing into my climbing bag. Abseiling was straightforward – but not without almost losing my phone which fell out the tree!

Nevertheless, it was DONE! It WAS possible to retrieve the ‘chute and so I now have a second hand parachute with a couple of holes in it. Sadly, it would not be safe to use as it was originally intended!

The Lesson I learnt was this: if you don’t try, even if it looks impossible, you will never know if you could have succeeded.

Regards, Leon Visser

Jonkershoek VWS

Trees Unlimited, Stellenbosch