Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Anniversary hang-gliding gift ends in horror

Woman plunges 300 metres to her death

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VANCOUVER -- It was an anniversary gift from her boyfriend -- a gliding experience over B.C.'s Fraser Valley that he was videotaping, until he watched in horror as the young woman slipped from the pilot's grip and plunged 300 metres to her death.

The hang glider's pilot tried desperately to hold on to the woman, said Jason Warner, a hang-gliding safety expert who arrived at the top of Mount Woodside and spoke with the pilot just minutes after the accident Saturday.

"He felt there was something wrong within seconds from launch," Warner said Sunday. "He tried to grab her, he tried to grab her harness, everything he could, wrapped his legs around her and she slipped down his legs and then fell."

Warner, safety director for the Hang-gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, also spoke with the woman's boyfriend who told him he organized the experience for his girlfriend as an anniversary gift.

"The worst thing possible has happened. Everybody is in shock, the (gliding) community is in shock," Warner said.

He said the man was videotaping the experience, but stopped recording just before she fell.

RCMP Sgt. Mark Pelz said he spoke with several witnesses after the incident. "The boyfriend was next to go. All you can say is 'Oh my God.' "

The 27-year-old woman, Lenami Godinez, had no experience in hang-gliding. Postmedia News reported Sunday night that Godinez is originally from Mexico but has lived in Canada for nine years. She had worked for the administrative services south coast region division at the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

Mount Woodside is a popular spot for gliders and considered one of the safest sites in the Fraser Valley to launch from for winds and distances, said Warner.

He said it's the first time this type of accident has happened in Canada, although there have been similar accidents around the world.

Because the area below the jump-off point was heavily forested, Pelz said it took dozens of searchers about eight hours to find the woman's body.

Witnesses said the woman fell about 30 seconds after the launch.

The investigation is in the early stages and RCMP couldn't say if pilot error or equipment failure were to blame.

The fall appears to be nothing more than a horrible tragedy, but police will keep an open mind as they investigate what happened, Pelz said.

"We have the hang-glider, we've got all of the hardware that goes with it. We'll find an expert that will tell us what needs to happen if any of the equipment failed," Pelz said.

The B.C. Coroners Service will also take part in the investigation.

Warner said HPAC is considering new safety measures following Saturday's tragedy. "We're now strongly encouraging the buddy system where somebody looks at your equipment before you launch," he said.

The B.C. Coroner's Service is investigating.

Pelz said the police aren't investigating criminal charges but that could be a possibility as well as potential civil implications because the pilot was contracted to provide the service.

-- The Canadian Press, with Postmedia News files

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2012 A9

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