Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Australian Adventure: Log 11

We’ve been fighting the wind along the entire second leg of the trip. The pilots putting in long hard days and risking dangerous takeoffs to keep pushing towards Toowoomba, to keep the kilometres piling up. The Outback is as flat as I’ve seen any part of the Earth’s surface, creating magnificent sun rises and sets, however the daily grind down the straight flat highway is becoming tedious. However, at least it’s much easier to find the Paragliders in the sky, no hills or tree’s obstructing our view.

The pilots are in view as they set down 60 km from the town of Winton. Known for the cache of dinosaur bones as well as petrified tracks of a pre-historic dino-stampede left in the red bed rock of the Outback. I finally get my first proper Aussie meat pie at the local bakery in town, and a rare chance to check internet, something that is even rarer than water out here. After a quick beer in the Tatts hotel, we head back out to the Paramotors and put Glenn back up into the sky. Pushing forward back to town, we fill the tanks and top up on groceries then wait for him on the outskirts of the town. After a good half hour, still no sign of the floating jellyfish in the sky. We push down the road even further, calling them on the radio as we go. Still no sign or call, we figure he must have bypassed the town and we missed him while in shopping.

We rocket out of the back side of town hoping our decision is the right one. I begin to do the math in my head, the average speed that has been traveled in headwinds that is usually around 35 to 45 kmh over the two hours that we’ve left him, he must have already passed, and made a large cut bypassing the town and getting a run on Longreach. We make the call to pursue down range; however, both Craig and I have an uneasy feeling. That is what most likely happened, however, if we are wrong and he had engine trouble, then we are driving away from him, rather than catching up. With the sun sinking, the seriousness of the situation increases. Before we go, we give one last hale on the radio that goes unanswered. The radio has a 25 km range, so he most certainly has bypassed the town, and we missed him.

We first check the airport 3 km out of town, just in case. No Glenn. We then shoot down the A2, Craig and I fixated on the horizon, looking for any sign of the Paraglider. Over the first crest, no wings, over the next crest, no Glenn, past the forest, no Glenn We don’t worry too much, as conditions have calmed down significantly, and he would be able to get 70 kmh out of the wing, and knowing the charge he's been on, he's likely trying to make the most of a rare spot of luck. However, soon the crests become farther and farther apart and our anxiety of seeing the wings over each increases with each failure. We are now 50 km out of town and the sun is now down. I’m still trying desperately to raise Glenn on the radio to no avail. Now it’s getting serious, we’re in the middle of the Outback, the sun has gone down, and we’re missing a man. We result to trying to hail down oncoming vehicles to ask if they’ve seen the floating Paramotors fly by. However, there are no cars on the road, only three Road Trains, all three refusing to stop in our aid, despite being pulled over, with hazard lights blinking, flashing our high beams and I out in the middle of the road waving my arms, pleading for the big trucks to stop; all three rush by.

At 60 km out of town, I do some more math, and he shouldn’t be this far out. He must have had issues at the beginning of the flight, several hours ago. Hopefully he's caught a ride back into town, and is sitting at the bar, drinking a beer and chuckling with the bar tender and patrons about how his ground crew left him for dead. We turn around and race back towards town, still trying to raise him on the radio. About ten kilometres from town, I give one last call out into the radio waves, and still get no return. If Glenn is in town, he would have heard this call, and our hearts start to sink, as morbid possibilities run through our heads. Hopefully his radio just ran out of juice, as this has been an issue.

As we enter town, I’ve been gazing the side of the road the entire trip, hoping that Glen was just slow and set down at the road side. To my relief, I see the distinctive silhouette of the Paramotor and wing all folded up beside the highway. I call to Craig, “I see him, stop.” Just then, a whistle comes from a nearby house, where a local has been keeping an alive Glenn company for the last couple hours. 

The story goes; Glenn was working the hardest winds that he had seen yet on this trip, only managing to eke out a measly 22 kmh, half of what we figured he were capable of. When we worked our way 10 km out of town and made the call on the radio, he was still fighting the winds, just over 25 km away, and would set down due to the turbulence not too far from where we stopped. After a long wait while we were racing in the opposite direction, Glenn, waiting by the roadside starting to realize no one was coming. So back up into the air he went, fought his way to Winton, buzzed the town and landed near a park, just on the far side of town where we would find him several hours and a tank of fuel later.

Predictably, the usual flow of profanity spewed from Glenn’s mouth; however it was a cockup of unreliable radios, no phone, no phone numbers and the ground crew loosing rearward sight of the pilot that all lead to what could have been a fatal situation.

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