World News

German paraglider survives being sucked into killer storm

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A German paraglider was encased in ice and blacked out after being sucked into a tornado-like thunderstorm in Australia and carried to a height greater than Mount Everest. She survived.

Ewa Wisnerska, 35, a champion German paraglider poses in this February 16, 2007 handout photograph. REUTERS/Stefan Mast/Ho

“You can’t imagine the power. You feel like nothing, like a leaf from a tree going up,” Ewa Wisnerska told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Friday.

“I was shaking all the time. The last thing I remember it was dark, I could hear lightning all around me.”

Wisnerska, 35, was carried to 30,000 feet (9,144 metres) while free-flying near Tamworth, 280 km (173 miles) northwest of Sydney, in a practice run on Wednesday ahead of an international competition next week.

A 42-year-old member of the Chinese team, He Zhongpin, died in the sudden storm, which struck while around 200 people were flying their parachute-style canopies.

Wisnerska, a member of the German team, had been carried to a height greater than the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot) Mt Everest -- an area known to mountaineers as the death zone for its extreme cold -- in just 10 minutes and was rendered unconscious for almost an hour.

She encountered hailstones the size of oranges, and the temperature plummeted to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).

“There’s no oxygen. She could have suffered brain damage. But she came to again at a height of 6,900 metres with ice all over her body and slowly descended herself,” one of Australia’s most experienced paraglider pilots Godfrey Wenness said.

Wisnerska was admitted to hospital with severe frostbite and blistering to her face and ears, but has since been released.

She had been trying to fly around the rapidly developing storm front, but became trapped when two storm cells merged, Wenness said.

Sudden severe thunderstorms are common during the Australian summer and come with destructive hail, winds and torrential rain.

Wisnerska, whose flight was tracked by her personal GPS and computer, landed 60 km (40 miles) from her launch site.

A British team member earlier this month survived an attack by two wild eagles which sent her canopy plummeting while flying in the same area ahead of the championships.