Ewa Wisnierska, 35, passed out due to a lack of oxygen and flew unconscious for up to an hour covered in ice after reaching an altitude of 9947 metres – near the cruising height of a jumbo jet.
The champion sportswoman’s survival was like “”winning Lotto 10 times in a row””, Australia’s most experienced paraglider says.
Wisnierska says experience told her she had no chance of survival, but a doctor told her that blacking out had saved her.
“”It was because that I got unsconscious because then the heart slows down all the functions – it saved my life,”” she told ABC radio.
Froze to death
He Zhongpin, 42, was found 75 kilometres away from his launch site, and most likely suffocated or froze to death after being sucked into the storm, hang gliding experts say.
Ms Wisnierska’s top speed of ascent was clocked at 20 metres per second and her descent at 33 metres per second by an on-board tracking system, she told ABC radio.
She described the violence of the storm system as “”amazing””.
“”I was shaking all the time – the last thing I remember it was dark, I could hear lightning all around me.
“”I knew I was in the middle of the thunderstorm and I could not do anything.
I knew the chances to survive are almost zero
“”From the theory, I knew the chances to survive are almost zero, I knew I can only have luck, I can’t do anything – and I got it.””
Wisnierska had been training for the upcoming Paragliding World Championships when she was sucked into the violent storm.
She regained consciousness in mid-air up to an hour later.
“”I wanted to fly around the clouds but I got sucked 20 metres per second up into it and started to spiral,”” she told smh.com.au.
“”After 40 minutes or an hour, I woke up and I was 6900 metres.
“”I was still flying but I realised I didn’t have the brakes in my hand.
“”I saw my hands and the gloves were frozen, and I didn’t have the brakes, and the glider was still flying on its own.
“”I was thinking I can’t do anything so I only have to wait and hope that the clouds were bringing me out somewhere.
And then I woke up
“”And then I woke up and was thinking I was maybe unconscious for one minute.
“”I didn’t know I was unconscious for so long.””
Godfrey Wenness, the president of the Manilla Sky Sailors club and organiser of the upcoming Paragliding World Championship, said Wisnierska’s tale of survival was mind-blowing.
“”It’s like winning Lotto 10 times in a row,”” he said, noting that the previous altitude survival record for a paraglider was 24,000 feet.
“”[Wisnierska] flew underneath a storm cloud and got sucked up to 30,000 feet. She was unconscious for about half an hour. She regained consciousness at 20,000 feet and then flew down and landed safely.
“”She was covered in ice. She suffered from severe frostbite. The temperature at that altitude was about minus 50 degrees. It’s higher than Mount Everest.””
Mr Wenness said her injuries were severe.
Her ears nearly got frozen off
“”She’s got bruises all over her body from the hail stones and she’s recovering from frostbite to her extremities. She’s got bandages over her head because her ears nearly got frozen off.””
“”She just remembers going up, lightning around her in the cloud and she doesn’t remember anything until coming to again.””
He said the size of the hail stones was up to 15 centimetres in diameter.
“”Apples, oranges, up to rockmelon size. And her glider kept flying perfectly which is the amazing thing in this whole thing.
“”Basically she can’t believe that she’s alive.’
Sergeant Scott Tanner of Manilla police said Wisnierska landed between Barraba and Niagra, 60 kilometres away from her launch site.
“”She was treated in hospital and discharged with frostbite injuries to her face,”” he said.
A Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said the temperature in the storm at 9,000 metres would have been lower than minus-40 degrees.
Body found 25 kilometres from Bingara
The body of Mr He was found by the Westpac Rescue helicopter 25 kilometres south-east of Bingara in northern NSW about 2pm yesterday.
He, a member of the Chinese national paragliding team, was in training for the Paragliding World Championships, which start next week in nearby Manilla.
The paraglider, who had 10 years’ experience in the sport, was last seen about 3pm on Wednesday as thunderstorms were moving into the area.
“”We assume he was taken to an altitude where he may have suffocated and may have become radically chilled,”” he said.
“”At the top of thunderstorms is typically where hail forms and there’s lots of agitation and turbulence.”