Australian paraglider Nick Nines may never walk again after descending hard on a rocky face while flying in the French Alps.
The 39-year-old from Brisbane met three other friends in mid-June, in Annecy, southeast France, as they were planning to travel into the hills.
Nick said it was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with blue skies, no wind and no signs of any danger.
“I’ve traveled to many places and conditions around the world, and it certainly doesn’t look like this was more serious,” he told news.com.au.
However, just a day into their flight, the veteran adventure pilot had his glider collapse and hit hard on a rocky face, with no time for his reserve parachute to deploy sufficiently.
The terrifying mid-air incident left Nick seriously injured. He now has spinal damage and has no movement from the waist down.
“I remember a few minutes before the accident happened. I don’t remember the actual accident, but I know I hit the floor twice,” Nick told news.com.au from the ICU bed at Brisbane Princess Alexandra Hospital.
“I was on the ground for a while after I crashed the first time and then somehow caught up in a gust of wind which I think re-inflated my parachute causing the second crash – which did the most damage.
“My friend, who was the last to take off, saw the crash from the air and immediately arranged for a rescue helicopter.”
Nick remembers climbing high to cross the Col des Aravis and then near the height of the hills he noticed the wind coming from the west and decided to jump to that side.
“Not long after that, I was in a bowl, facing the wind, and my last shots were less than 400 meters from the crash site and took several turns in a cooler temperature.”
He said that he made several turns, looking for an elevator, and then: “I fell from the sky.”
His friend saw him spirally and throw the reserve that did not spread.
Nick was flown to Annecy Hospital, France, where doctors performed surgery on his back to stabilize an L1 vertebral fracture, with his other injuries including a subdural hematoma (knock on the head), a ruptured aorta, and minor pulmonary contusions (a blow to the lung) .
The 39-year-old was in hospital in France until friends crowded around him to help raise more than $67,000 so he could fly back to Australia a few weeks ago.
It took a lot to convince Nick to accept financial assistance from GoFundMe, but he is happy to be back in Australia now.
The contributions are not only intended for emergency care and flights home, but will also be used to help Nick with more medical costs and living expenses while recovering without income and any specialized equipment he might need.
Nick, who is from New Zealand, is now planning to go back there to receive care in the spine unit.
There is still a long way to go, he said, but while he is not sure of his prospects for a recovery, he is still hopeful.
“I think she’s reborn – but I don’t know for sure how much of a job I’ll get back to.
“I am patient and working through it and not very emotional about it. I have had amazing experiences in paragliding and this happened to one day of bad luck.”
Nick, who has been a parachute pilot for 15 years, has competed numerously in the Red Bull X-Alps – the toughest race on Earth – setting a record number of national flights and exploring corners of the world he would only dare dream of.
He is often described as the “legend” of the paragliding world.
Nick took to Facebook where he shared a lengthy post thanking those who had donated and all the messages of support he’s received from around the world. He also talked about whether he might fly again.
“I always thought this was a risky sport with that kind of thing being part of the deal, but flying on the day I remember was relaxing and fun,” he said.
“From a few minutes before the accident to a few days after that I no longer have a memory. Will I fly again? I have never had a dogmatic association with flying, I just found it the best value to explore Buck and have unique and special experiences in nature. But the situation is now changed than before It’s too early to tell what the future will bring.”
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