CANBERRA, Australia – A German champion paraglider said Friday she did not believe she would survive when she was lifted higher than Mount Everest by a thunderstorm that killed a Chinese paraglider in eastern Australia.
Paragliding 2005 World Cup winner Ewa Wisnierska, 35, was lifted 32,612 feet above sea level by a storm Wednesday near Manilla in New South Wales state while preparing for the 10th FAI World Paragliding Championships next week, event organizer Godfrey Wenness said.
A 42-year-old Chinese paraglider, He Zhongpin, was killed by the same weather system, Wenness said, apparently from a lack of oxygen and extreme cold.
His body was found Thursday 47 miles from his launch site. A postmortem examination will be carried out Monday, police said.
Officials and Wisnierska's ground team used her global positioning and radio equipment to track her ordeal.
Wenness said Wisnierska soared from 2,500 feet to her maximum height in about 15 minutes.
She lost consciousness for more than 30 minutes while her paraglider flew on uncontrolled, sinking and lifting several times, he said.
She regained consciousness at about 1,640 feet and landed safely, suffering frost bite to her face and with ice in her lightweight flying suit.
She spent only an hour in a hospital for observation and said she hopes to compete in the biennial championships, which begin Feb. 24.
She described Friday how she attempted to skirt the thunderstorm and when that failed, repeatedly attempted to spiral against its powerful lift.
She said could hear lightning around her and decided her chances of survival were "almost zero."
She said she radioed her team leader at 13,123 feet.
"I said, 'I can't do anything,"' she told reporters. "'It's raining and hailing and I'm still climbing — I'm lost."'
She recalled feeling like an astronaut returning from the moon as her landing approached. "I could see the Earth coming — wow, like Apollo 13 — I can see the Earth," she said.
Wenness praised her ability to regain her senses and strength to land.
"It's like winning Lotto 10 times in a row — the odds of her surviving were that long," Wenness said.
Mount Everest is the world's tallest peak, rising 29,035 feet above sea level.