Friday, September 1, 2006

Mexican pilot leads paragliding standings

Twelve pilots set new competition task record

Express Staff Writer

Gliders fill the skies above Ketchum on the opening day of the U.S. Paragliding National Championships at Bald Mountain. Photo by Tim Meehan/Mark Gaskill.

A glider pilot from Mexico was atop the standings of the U.S. Paragliding National Championships midway through the competition at Bald Mountain near Ketchum.

Abelardo Laguna took the lead on Monday after placing first in a record-setting competition task that took 12 pilots from the Bald Mountain launch site to landings near Ellis, some 15 miles north of Challis.

Event organizer Chuck Smith said the 125 kilometer (77.5 mile) flight was the longest distance ever flown in a paragliding competition task.

"We try to choose a task that is challenging," he said.

Meanwhile, high winds forced cancellation of competition events on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Sometimes you lose the whole thing to weather," said Smith, the owner and operator of Fly Sun Valley, a Ketchum paragliding business. "We're hoping for Thursday, but we're much more optimistic about Friday and Saturday."

The competition started Sunday, Aug. 27, and ends Saturday, Sept. 2. Some 100 of the top glider pilots in the world are competing.

Smith explained that because of the unpredictability of weather, pilots complete as many competition tasks as allowable. Tasks were completed Sunday and Monday, and Smith is hoping competitors can complete two or three more tasks before the championships end.

Sunday's competition task was a 78 kilometer (48.36 mile) flight from Bald Mountain to Smiley Creek. Forty pilots were able to complete the task, with Emeryville, Calif. pilot Josh Cohn flying the distance the fastest and placing first. Local pilot Honza Rejmanek placed second.

However, neither Cohn nor Rejmanek were able to complete the longer second day task and both dropped in the standings, Cohn to 15th and Rejmanek to 13th.

Monday's event was listed as a "125 kilometer task in strong wind." Laguna flew the distance the fastest, moving him into first place in the competition.

In addition to Laguna, the other 11 pilots completing the record-setting flight, listed in order of finish, were: Dean Stratton, Saugus, Calif.; Brian Webb, Victoria, Australia; David Prentice, Albuquerque, N.M.; and Will Gadd, Alberta, Canada. (Gadd, incidentally holds the world distance record in paragliding with a flight from Zapata, Texas in 1998 of 263 miles.)

Also: Thomas McCune, Issaquah, Wash.; Matt Dadam, Salt Lake City, Utah; Kent Dyer, Bailey, Colo.; Kyndel Banister, Lake Stevens, Wash.; Eric Reed, San Francisco, Calif.; Jamie Messenger, Ketchum; and Matt Beechinor, Ketchum.

In overall standings, following Laguna, were Stratton in the number two spot, Webb in third, Dadam in fourth and Reed at fifth.

Hailey pilot Nate Scales, who set a new Idaho distance record by flying 126 miles on Aug. 20, was in 23rd place.

Pilots were undeterred by an unfortunate accident in practice flights on Saturday, Aug. 26, when Croatian pilot Tin Ilakovac suffered a compressed vertebra in a hard landing on the Seattle Ridge ski run some two miles south of the Bald Mountain launch site.

According to the Blaine County Sheriff's Office, Ilakovac's glider collapsed and he activated his emergency parachute but was too close to the ground to avoid injury.

Smith attributed the accident to "pilot error."

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