Another hot day at Lake Keepit (over 100 F), with plenty of sun producing attractive cumulus clouds. The tasks were long – and proved much more difficult than those of the previous two days. Yet once again almost everyone got home (some rather late).
We had some rain yesterday evening, a consequence of over development in the hills to the east. This was forecast to be possible again today, so tasks were set to head west, then northeast for a return south along the foothills of the higher ground. It soon became clear that lift strength and altitudes were, not up to recent standards, yielding notably lower speeds. Many pilots were hoping the run south, toward home would be fast, but few were able to make this leg work well. The result was a day on which most pilots took well over the 4-hour minimum time to complete tasks shorter than they’d planned on.
Kathy Fosha had what was probably the most notable flight of the day, though unfortunately not the most successful. She made reasonable progress to the northern turnpoint, but like many found conditions there deteriorating. She got stuck low for quite some time, and for a while was looking at a likely landout. She finally climbed away and headed south, only to have both her batteries – and with them her flight recorder – fail when still 100km from home. Then began a long struggle to stay in the air and make progress using only her mechanical vario. In this she eventually prevailed, finally landing back at Lake Keepit not long before sunset.
Sailplanes are not the only craft currently engaged in motorless aviation in this part of the world. About 20 minutes drive northeast of Lake Keepit is the town of Manilla, near to Mt. Borah which is famous for paragliding. Each day we have seen paragliders working the same strong thermals that attract gliders. In late afternoon it’s not strange to encounter a paraglider pilot by the side of the road, seeking a ride back toward Manilla. This apparently is standard procedure: launch and soar (downwind), then land (hopefully near a road where cars can be expected), hitchhike home, eat, sleep, repeat.
Manilla was the site of the 2007 world paragliding championships. The practice period for this contest saw one of the most amazing and miraculous events in the entire history of human flight. On one task, a pair of thunderstorm cells formed on course. A few pilots thought it might be possible to fly between them, but they merged, and a German pilot – Ewa Wisnierska – was sucked up into the resulting “supercell”. She passed out due to oxygen deprivation and spent about an hour unconscious, during which she suffered bruises from huge hailstones and serious frostbite. Her flight computer recorded her altitude, which reached 32,600’ – well above what is normally considered unsurvivable. The temperature was around minus 50 F. The storm cell eventually spat her out, she regained consciousness at around 15,000’ and was able to land. Though in rough shape, she was able to talk to her teammates by mobile phone and give her coordinates. After a quick rescue and a short time in hospital, she was discharged and on her way to a full recovery.