Local paraglider survives crash into CBMR trees

Shoutout to ski patrol

By Kendra Walker

Last week, what started as primo flight conditions and a routine landing situation for a local paraglider abruptly turned into a close call that could have resulted in serious injury or even ended his life. Thanks to the paraglider’s quick thinking and the skilled response from Crested Butte Ski Patrol, Jef Field walked away unscathed after landing in an aspen tree at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. 

CBMR confirmed that on Tuesday, April 2 at approximately 4 p.m., Crested Butte Ski Patrol responded to a call of a paraglider stuck in a tree a few hundred meters south of  the West Wall Lift. “Patrol helped the paraglider down, and no injuries were reported,” said CBMR communications manager Julie Block. 

Field has been paragliding for over 30 years. He has flown all over the world and is a member of the Crested Butte Soaring Society (CBSS), a local community of paragliders and hang gliders who frequently fly together in the Gunnison Valley. Many in the community have seen him and his fellow pilots soaring high from Crested Butte Mountain, surfing the skies amongst the birds. 

“We have a great crew and we look out for each other,” he says of the CBSS. “We really enjoy flying this valley, and flying off the mountain is a tradition that we really appreciate.”

This winter alone, Field has flown more than 20 times from the CBMR launch near Monument. His flight last Tuesday started just like any other. Field says that he went up with two friends that afternoon and they had good weather conditions. “It was a great day, it was one of the early spring days of thermals. Thermals are how we stay up for all those long flights, and we look forward to those. This particular day had really good thermals and I was able to get up to 13,500 feet and fly all the way to Gothic and back. I was having a ball.”

His friends both launched and landed before him. “I flew by myself for another half-hour or so,” he says. When he was ready, Field said he made his way over to one of his favorite places to land. “The boneyard is a flat open area at the top of West Wall Lift. It’s a nice level, open landing zone so it’s a great place to land.”

He continues, “It was a routine landing situation. I did some spirals and lost enough altitude so I could set up for landing.”

Field recalls that the wind was coming out of the north that day. “It’s usually coming out of the west or the south, so my landing approach was 180 degrees opposite of what it usually is. I did a series of five figure eights, switching back and forth over the landing zone. Every time you do one of those figure eight turns, you go up and then you lose altitude in between the next turn, so that you gradually lose more altitude than you gain.”

Field says that everything was going great. However, on his sixth turn, “I came around and hit a really fast sink.” He explains that a sink is a column of falling or sinking air, just the opposite of a thermal. “The very moment that it happened I was all of a sudden closer to the trees than I was comfortable, so I had to make a split-second decision.” 

He explains that he had two choices. “I could pull my left brake and try to turn and avoid the trees. But my concern was all of this happened so fast and if my tip grabbed that tree, it’s game over. One of my paragliding mentors, Rob Sporrer, always told me, ‘Jef, if you ever think there’s a chance to hit a tree…go into the tree, be the tree, love the tree. It’s worse if you catch a tip.’”

Field continues, “When you’re flying, your decisions have to be the best decisions all the time, they can’t be half-assed. It all happened so fast. So I chose choice number two. Instead of turning away, I steered right toward the trees to land in the trees. I’d never hit a tree before, but I truly think that’s what saved me from injury or losing my life.”

Field was left hanging from his lines 30 feet above the ground. He had a radio and was able to communicate with his fellow pilots and with ski patrol. “They came within five minutes, assembled a team, established I was ok, got the ball rolling and had me down on the ground safely within 45 minutes.” He says ski patrol got a rope up to him, which he attached to his harness. “They then lowered me to the ground on the rope.”

Field credits ski patrol for their quick response and skills to help him. “I really want to thank the ski patrol and give a huge shoutout to them. The response was really reassuring to know that we have people like Adam Caira, Ethan Passant, Steven Moss and Steve Duke. I can’t thank them enough and it’s so awesome to have a great team looking out for us.” 

Field had no injuries from the incident and says they were able to recover half of his wing. As of this week, the other half is still hanging in the aspen and he plans to get it out of the tree once the snow melts. 

Field is thankful everything turned out ok. “I’m just glad I’m still alive. I shudder to think if I hadn’t hit the tree what might have happened. I’m so thankful and gracious to be alive and to be able to fly again. It truly is my passion.”

Check Also

Kebler Pass Road a no-go for this weekend

Cottonwood, Gothic will open Friday By Katherine Nettles Despite its best efforts, Gunnison County Public Works …