Man who fell to earth `so lucky to be alive'

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The Independent Online
A paraglider who hit the ground at 100mph after falling to earth for more than a mile when his parachute collapsed described himself yesterday as "the luckiest person on earth".

Pat Dolan, 39, a joiner of Queensbury, Bradford, West Yorkshire, is recovering in a hospital's spinal injuries unit.

Mr Dolan, an experienced paraglider, got into trouble as he flew over Italy two weeks ago. His canopy hit turbulence and he became caught in its lines. He was unable to open his reserve canopy and plunged to the ground.

He broke his spine and his right leg when he smashed into the ground.

But despite being paralysed from the waist down, Mr Dolans' doctors are confidenthe will walk again.

Speaking from his bed in the spinal injuries unit at Pinderfields General Hospital, Wakefield, Pat said: "I'm definitely the luckiest person on Earth. I couldn't wish for anything more than to be alive."

After taking off, he had soared to 6,500ft but flew into an "asymetric tuck" causing his canopy to collapse inwards.

"It was all over in a matter of seconds. I was certain I was going to die as I hurtled to the ground. I couldn't believe how calm and collected I was. I thought I'd be screaming and shouting out in desperation but I knew I was done for. There was nothing more I could do to save my neck."

The canopy had wrapped itself round Mr Dolan's body, which meant there was no drag to slow him down as he fell "in a standing up position" towards the earth. "Even if I found the cord it would be too late. I was staring death in the face. I couldn't react fast enough at the speed everything was happening. All I could do was watch the ground as it got closer and closer. I didn't have time to think about anything else."

Mr Dolan said that he did not feel scared. He "just gave into the situation and let it happen.

"It was all over in a matter of seconds. As I fell to within a few yards of the ground, I tensed up and shut my eyes tightly. I didn't feel any pain when I hit the ground. I just blacked out."

Mr Dolan took off from Mount Grappa after climbing on foot to an altitude of 5,000ft with friend Mike Ramsay.

The pair were in Italy for the 15th Internationale di Volo which attracted 186 paragliders from across Europe.

Mr Dolan added: "I was 100 per cent amazed when I came round. I wasn't quite sure whether I was still flying or falling. I wondered if it had all been a nightmare.

"It took a while to remember what had happened until I felt the pain in my back. I knew my back was broken and there was blood spurting out of a wound on my forehead.

"I'd never experienced pain like that before. There was no mercy. It was overwhelming. I had no sensation in my lower limbs and I started breathing erratically. I started to panic.

"I tried to contact Mike over our two-way radio. I could hear him talking in my ear but the microphone piece had twisted round behind my head.

"Mike had no idea about what had happened. I didn't know how to let anyone know where I was. So in the end I had to resort to shouting for help. A group of climbers or backpackers must have heard me calling. They took about 15 minutes to get to me.

"I was in so much pain I couldn't really take in what had happened to me. I was so grateful to see them."

Mr Dolan, a member of the Ilkely-based Dales Hang-gliding and Paragliding Club, was airlifted to the Treviso hospital, 50 miles north-east of Verona.

Doctors who are treating Mr Dolan at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, say he survived because he fell on to a slope.

He has a serious back injury and it is not yet known whether he will make a full recovery.