By David Aspinall
Terrifying footage shows a paraglider crashing into the side of a cliff before miraculously righting his parachute and safely landing on the ground.
Greg Overton was enjoying a scenic flight through the valley of south of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, on July 10, when disaster struck.
As his wing collapsed, the Tacoma, Washington-native careered uncontrollably to a cliff off towards his left.
Unable to right his path, Greg crashed face first into the cliff, flipping upside down, with his parachute dragging against the rock.
Amazingly, he managed to turn the right way up and within five minutes was back on safe Swiss ground.
Greg said: “This was my first crash in three years of flying but as soon as I took the first stall, I knew this would be the most severe in-flight emergency.
“Panic wasn’t the emotion that I felt the most.
“I remember the moment I realized that impact was imminent, and that nothing I did would stop that from occurring.
“The mental image of the rock I was about to hit, about 10ft before I hit, is a snapshot I’ll have in my memory forever
“The seconds after impact are a bit of a blur, but my first thought was ‘is the wing still over me’?
“I was really in disbelief when I found myself in stable flight headed out into the middle of the valley for landing, with plenty of open fields to land in.”
Incredibly, Greg didn’t suffer any major injuries and was able to walk 3km to the nearest train station so he could get to a hospital.
After six X-rays and a CT scan he was released, having only sustained a minor fracture of his L1 vertebra, a split lip and bruised heels.
Greg said: “Overall, I’ve had classic car crash symptoms of soreness and stiffness, no headaches or other concussion symptoms.
“I had no brace, no medication, no surgery, no limitations.
“The backs of my heels were badly bruised and it hurt to walk on them, so I was walking like a kangaroo.”
Despite his wing being broken completely, Greg was back flying again on a back up he’d brought with him.
Using the Find my iPhone app, he discovered his phone, sunglasses and Bluetooth speakers had been scattered across the cliff face where he’d hit.
Greg said: “Flying again so soon was intense, but my assessment of my mental status made me think that if I didn’t find a nice glassy early morning quickly, I would choose never to fly again.
“My wife said it terrified her that I was already flying again, but that she was actually proud of me for getting in the air again quickly and overcoming what could have become a passion-ending fear of free flight.”
Since the accident, Greg has tried to work out what caused the crash so he can avoid it in the future and has sought advice from the rest of the free flight community.
Greg said: “The online community of pilots in our sport has been extremely collaborative in reviewing the crash footage and debriefing it, to help each other and me get better as pilots and as a community.
“I’ve had responses from professional pilots, to wing designers, instructors, and even students, who have various experience to lend and learning points.
“I would recommend that as soon as a beginner pilot is comfortable with the basic manoeuvres and feeling of flying their paraglider, they should get signed up for an Situations In Flight course.
“Without one, I can’t recommend valley flying in the Alps as turbulent air is just so common and I think I was probably ill-prepared to be there.”