Thursday, May 3, 2012

Canadian Hang Gliding Pilot Swallows Memory Card After Fatal Hang Gliding Accident


A Canadian hang gliding pilot whose passenger plummeted 1,000 feet to her death is in police custody until a video camera memory card he swallowed passes through his digestive system.

William Jon Orders, 50, has been charged with obstructing justice after allegedly swallowing the card from the video camera that was attached to the hang glider.

Authorities believe the card may hold evidence that could show what happened when Orders' passenger, Lenami Godinez-Avila, 27, fell shortly after the two were launched from Mount Woodside in British Columbia on a tandem hang-gliding flight on Saturday.

Godinez-Avila's body was later found in a heavily wooded area, police said.

"There have been a series of x-rays taken," Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) told reporters. "We have confirmed, so we're just kind of in the waiting process here."

She said the x-rays show that the card is "still inside."

"We've equated it about the size to our Canadian loonie dollar coin," Constable Tracy Wolbeck of the RCMP told today. "It's not a big thing. It's a small little memory card that fits into [the] camera."

A Canadian loonie is slightly larger than an American quarter.

Wolbeck said that Orders "advised police that he had swallowed the card," but said that police cannot say anything else about conversations they have had with him because the investigation is ongoing.

"The circumstances surrounding the situation are very unique," she said. "We are working diligently so that we can find answers for the family."

Margit Nance, the executive director of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, said that Orders was a fully certified instructor and tandem pilot who had been flying for 16 years. She said that all of his training was "completely up-to-date."

"This has never happened in the history of the sport here in Canada," Nance told, referring to a passenger falling off of a tandem hang glider. "This is so anomalous, which is why everyone is in totally shock. How is this possible? It's incomprehensible."

The association has temporarily suspended Orders' certification as an instructor and tandem pilot pending the completion of the investigation, Nance said.

"Then there will be a review as to whether further disciplinary action has to be taken, which could include being stripped of all the ratings and expulsion from the association."

According to the Vancouver Hang Gliding website, the company owned and operated by Orders, a video of every flight is part of the package so every hang glider is equipped with a camera.

"Either it was a pilot error or equipment error. Those are the only two variables," Nance said.

Coroners are working to determine Godinez-Avila's official cause of death, police said. Orders' next court appearance is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

"A young woman with her whole life ahead of her lost her life. This is something that is so heartbreaking," Nance said. "Even though it's once in 40 years in this sport, this must never happen again."

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