Courageous or crazy? Paragliders fly in the face of danger

AT THE foot of the monolithic Mt Borah they wait, minds ablaze but eyes with an icy resolve.

In less than an hour, the close to 100 men and women – of all ages and from all across the globe – will launch themselves from the mountain and into the blue abyss.

Supported only by a harness and a fabric wing, the gliders will soar for up to 300km, using thermal currents to propel them as far as Queensland.

It’s fascinating, it’s exhilarating – it’s paragliding.

And Manilla just happens to be one of the best launch pads in the world for the sport.

Brandon O’Donnell, a young father from the Gold Coast, was among the throng of competitors at the base camp yesterday morning.

He said while he wasn’t “a risk taker by nature”, the sport had captured his imagination from the moment his feet left Mt Borah for the first time 12 years ago.

“I played a lot of basketball when I was younger but I started doing shift work and I wanted to find something that I could just do on a day off,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“I just love it; I’ve been coming here every year.”

The art of paragliding, he said, was looking for spots where the sun hits the ground with the most intensity, setting off “thermals” which help gliders rise through the air.

“You’re looking for brown paddocks, rock faces, anything you know will heat up better,” he said.

Depending on the thermal currents, competitors can fly anywhere from a few hundred metres to hundreds of kilometres, before coming to rest in a paddock and calling a retrieval vehicle to be picked up.

His record flight is 150km, when he flew from Manilla to Moree.

“You can get stranded sometimes ... there was a guy the other day who lost radio contact with the crew and had to walk four hours with his pack. Other guys hitchhike back if they can,” Mr O’Donnell said.

The real dangers, he said, were in the air, including the chance of a mid-air collision at about 40km/h with another glider.

“You’re constantly looking around. It’s like driving on a highway,” he said. 

Manilla XC Camp 2014 organiser and world-renowned paraglider Godfrey Wenness said one of the appeals of the sport was its simplicity.

“You’ve got an aircraft that fits into a backpack and you’re up in the air with the eagles,” Mr Wenness said.

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