It’s not the air that will kill you…
It wasn’t suicide. I keep my knives sharp. It would have been an easy way out if that was on my mind. If I had a death wish. I would leave this world behind.
I was upset at the world. I almost lost the contract.
I rescue falcons. I train them. They are my brothers. They are my guides. These winged ones. They help me make sense of the skies. Maybe they are the only thing that makes sense in this world.
The dump hires me to keep the wildlings out, by the hundreds ravens and gulls flock in, eating the toxic waste.
My falcons keep them away. But I had lost 3 of my kin, in the last couple months. 3 Raptors lost to the cause. One was hit by a semi. 2 more were killed by an unknown microbe, unknown to me, I have asked why.
They died from an illness that the best in the country, to this day, still can’t identify, still can’t tell me, what took them away!
My family tried to have me committed. They think I’m suicidal. Right when I could really use some support, I’m sitting here in a wheelchair with two broken legs and she thinks I still want to die. After all of that happened. All because I wanted to fly. They had to screw my knee and ankles back together. If I really wanted to die, I would not have keeped on fighting, I would have closed my eyes and floated away. My first goal was hydration, a mile away! The second, was 55 miles away. A bumpy dirt road, an uneven highway, a challenge most would not even accept. A mission to Arby’s, a Roast beef and curly fries, check. The final leg on approach, 40 miles with the Dr. and Pepper’s help, to the hospital was the next step.
I lost 3 birds this month. I’m feeling hopeless and lost when I park my trusty steed, my classic Silverado at the foot of the Black Knoll, out in the west desert. I would rather not say exactly where. It’s near the dump. I had barely saved my job with all the deaths this last month. Their last breaths still lingering in my mind.
I was born in the wrong time!
This is the worst age of the world to be alive. I don’t want to live in this world, this time. Not anymore. I’m not suicidal. I’m indifferent. I will go up to the top of the hill, I will shout my pain to silence, I will throw my life to the wind, like an arrow in the sky.
I will fly, to honor the fallen. For a second I will be free from these problems.
Maybe I drove too far. Maybe not far enough. Not enough people care.
This is life or death for all of us.
I’m trying to sell my regular paraglider. My instructor disagrees. Instead all I have is this miniature thing. It’s not really designed to launch like my full sized wing. So many Epic flights on both. This wing say’s “just for kiting”. We both know that’s just a warning. It’s written solely for liability. Honing those skills of the sky.
This miniature wing, a seed floating on the wind, carrying my form so high.
I must have launched it a hundred times already.
What’s one more to honor the fallen, one more shot in the sky?
1500 – plenty of time.
I feel hopeless and lost when I park my truck. I’m alone in this fight, except for Leia. A Warrior Princess, Leia is my three year old English Setter. Spotted runt of the litter.
My hawk died one month and one day ago.
I am going to honor her with a flight tonight.
I will grieve for my lost friend.
I will play my flute and watch the sun set, unto the end.
I feel the wind coming up the hill. It’s growing slower by the moment. In a few minutes, the anabatic air will turn katabatic and flow down the hill.
I need to launch before that happens.
In that still air in between, I will forward launch, taking flight from the top! Like a falcon in his stoop, I lean all the way forward, hands swept all the way behind my back! With the breaks in tow, not a single thing to slow my wing. It jumps up off the ground so fast and smooth with nothing to hinder its que. That sound the wing makes is so unique!
Like a katana expertly being unsheathed.
Running, running, diving, across the top of the plateau, until I have the speed to make this mini wing take flight. Leia will run down around the edge of the cliff. Chasing me all the way to the truck.
On my first attempt, I abort the launch. As I neared the edge I didn’t find the right footing. But not this time. My resolve, resolute. Determined, I will take flight. I reset my wing, take my heading and a deep breath. In that moment only one thing remains.
Everything else floats away. That one thing is me and my wing!
I just have to run off this ledge and then I will be flying.
But I didn’t take all into account. There was a giant boulder twenty feet out.
I got only a second of flight. That moment your feet leave the cliff. You sit back in your harness and feel the lift. But it wasn’t there this time. Not like the others. Not even a breath of drift. Not even a hint of that beautiful lift. Like a stone I dropped sitting in my harness aloft. For only a second I drift out away from the cliff. A little more speed and I would have made it. A little more lift and I would have been free. Only a moment of flight but there wasn’t even a chance of that for me tonight.
My right is the first to hit the rocks. Then the left. Crushing my hope and shin both!
I fall about 15’ feet with each ledge drop.
Tucked like a ball, I’m rolling … rolling… till my back reaches a sharp stop!
1830 – I take a deep breath!
Can I move?
Am I dead? No
I am going to die.
All my first aid training and falconry medicine take over.
How can I this be? How badly am I injured
I sit up. Take off my helmet. Unbuckle my harness.
My hand is gushing blood.
I pinched it closed, wrapping my neck guard, my buff around it.
I look down. My right leg is shaped a little funny, like a Z, or a bolt, with two kinks.
It wasn’t like that before. I really don’t think that should be there.
Clearly, my right leg is toast. I can move my left pretty well. It’s only a sprain. I think to myself. I can still move it, and the pain is muted. But the agony of my right.
The fiery pain almost puts me out of sight.
I haven’t a piece of survival gear. This isn’t right, only a hoodie over my t-shirt. Tactical pants over my long johns. No other supplies with me to help beat the night. My hiking boots are laced up, but the swelling is squeezing them so tight. My wallet, phone, and a lighter are in my pocket. My car is a distant dot on the valley floor, 2000’ below and at least half a mile to go. Maybe more. How did I miss that rock, how did I make such a simple mistake?
I drag myself thirty feet up the ledge and look over at the desert valley floor below.
A jagged rocky expanse, I further realize my folly.
I turn back and look at my glider. The pain stoping any progress.
My stiffening joints, as hope slips further from my sight.
I gather some grass while crawling. Maybe I can build a fire before it freezes tonight.
I move some rocks aside. Dig out a little bed and crumple in pain. I am staying here, forever or maybe just the night.
1945 – I can hear the motor from a bike. The biker passed by me earlier when I left the truck. There’s no way he can see me from down there, even if he thought to look up.
It’s Thursday. I need to get down, for there’s storms on the horizon, maybe forecasted two days out. I don’t remember. My mind was left somewhere before I blacked out.
I have no water. No food. No blanket. Only ID, for my family to be notified when they eventually find this fallen knight.
If I am going to survive, I need a plan. The desert is a wild place. Predatory animals roam these lands. The night is their time. A full moon lights the sky, turning every shadow into either the hunter or the hunted unknown.
It’s inhospitable to the lame and broken.
I see my blood trailing along the sharp slabs of grisly stone. There’s no hiding the blood, or the smell in this wind. A coyote howls, so close and down wind. My mind searches for a plan, a weapon to defend. Only a broken fist, a string of nylon, a bloody rag, not even a pocket knife to try to pretend.
Such a twist of fate, for this man of mountains, tamer of Falcons, laying broken and twisted, alone in the western mountains.
I’m going to die. Time ends for each of us. I need to record a message for Gage; my son he is only twelve.
Darkness fills my mind.
My bloody hand is wrapped in my buff.
I am really fucked. There’s no way to get help. I had passed out from the shock, and I now wake in the twilight.
Leia is gone. She doesn’t recognise my scent. I smell like death. I can feel him lurking in the shadows. I don’t know why I haven’t died yet.
Nobody will be searching for me. I often disappear for days at a time. This is nothing new. Nobody knows where I go. And I like it that way.
There’s a patch of snow over there.
Maybe I can melt some in the morning.
Already overhead is the moon ¾ full.
Wait, What’s that sound?
I listen. I hold my breath…
Pad … Pad… am I dreaming? Pad … Pad…
Holy crap, there it is again. Closer this time. There is a large animal over there. Holding my breath, I feel my heartbeat coming back. Escalating.
Then a sound different from a friend.
I hear the soft lick lick lick of a cat on the snow.
I really don’t want to know, I peak outfrom under the wing.
I stare into the shadow. Staring hoping for miracle.
There he is, coat shimmering in the Moonlight. A lion, King of the Mountain standing ten feet away licking that tiny patch of snow. It raises its head a stares straight into my soul.
It’s just a tiny glider and some fine cord between me and him.
Round ears framing bright green eyes which piercing through the night.
Long tail flicking back and forth.
I stare. I pray “Thank you God!” Thank you for sending me this lion to take me home.
It is an honor to die here under the power of this beautiful creature.”
The lion stares. And I stare back. I have no strength. No way to put up a fight. In my mind I praise creator for sending such a beautiful sight. But out of my mouth,
I hear the words of introduction,
“Hey Bud” break the silence of the frosted night!
Suddenly, the lion melts from my sight.
Like liquid mercury in the moon light.
Instead, of claws and fangs delight,
Leia staggers over to my side.
In sobs and grateful prayers I hug her.
Hold her. She warms my aching soul.
At that moment I decide, I’ll make it through this night!
I have to fight. There is no easy death with honor.
Leia keeps me warm for a while.
She is my only hope here in the dark.
It’s a beautiful night.
Gorgeous colors stretch the lake across,
the flat desert sea the help of the gibbous moon.
Maybe I can sleep. Or maybe, the coyotes will find me and tear apart my feet.
Will they find me soon. I hear them. Will they eat both Leia and I like a spoon?
Dying from the teeth of a Puma. That would be valiant.
Death by the gnawing of savage, starving dogs sounds repugnant.
Each howl brings a chill closer. I am in the scent path.
Leia is my only hope
“Bark Leia” “Bark at everything.”
I can’t go anywhere. I see her dull brown eyes, which once were loving and friendly, transform into beads full of fire and grit. If only they were mirrors of my own eyes. If only I had that fierceness through the night.
Leia wakes me shivering.
It’s 0330 on my watch.
I am alone, wrapped in a paraglider. My harness is holding my back. A rock jammed in my leg, trying to pinch off the nerve. My reserve parachute is holding my head. I’m holding Leia inside the glider to block the wind and trap the precious heat.
But the breeze so frosty won’t ease the pain in my feet.
She has no collar. I left it at home the morning before. If anyone finds her, they will think she was abandoned. Here we both lay broken, twisted, and tatered.
No water, no food, how could I let this happen?
0500 – the Wasatch range glows across the rim of the basin.
The only way I can get down is to launch this glider in the uphill breeze.
I have to crawl to the edge, somehow catch the morning wind with this miniature wing. It could carry me down to the truck. With a bit of luck, it could lift me away from the rocks.
As the morning sun hits my crash site, I gather my glider up, bit by bit, increasing my Hope with each tug on the nose.
That first crawl, up the ledge fifteen feet to unhook a caught line. Almost worse than trying to stop from sliding down the mountain all night! As I’m reeling in the edges, I see all the tangles from the cold restless night. No matter, I’ve got plenty of time.
Those first movements in the light are restoring my faith in surviving this fight!
I start with the risers. It’s a giant rats nest of tiny cords. Pulling the risers through one loop after another. Each motion draws the rats nest tighter together.
Am about to die like that girl last year in Provo canyon?
They found her in the spring. Nothing but a skeleton with a broken ankle.
There’s no way JP is going down with a broken ankle.
My dad would kick my ass!
My friends will resurrect me just to kill me for being so stupid.
If JP goes down from just a broken ankle, they all would call me such a pansy.
Nobody cares though.
I have failed my mission.
The only thing deader than me now is the dead morning air. The Stillness in the dawn.
I imagine dying of dehydration.
How would that be?
Leia will die. My 3 birds in the truck will bake and die.
The 3 birds at home will scream at their peril
And 500 quail that I raised as feed will all perish.
Everybody is going to die.
I didn’t kill myself. I can’t let myself die.
On the ledge, I spread out the wing.
I might be able to do this.
Sorting the lines. If I can sort these lines.
If I can think straight.
I’m pulling risers through. It’s tangles and twists, and knots.
Besides its jagged nasty shit below me.
“I could make it worse. All it has to do is lift me. And I could slam back to earth.”
Never would I make it back to see my son.
None of my feathered friends would make it home!
Struggling, I strap my helmet to my right ankle around the heel.
It must be shattered. And my left is swollen stiff.
It’s just a sprain, I tell myself.
I have a butt. I can slide.
I have a fist wrapped in a bloody buff and one good arm.
I use the heel of my left leg. It aches. But not so much.
I am a 3 legged wolf fighting from the trap. I didn’t have to chew off my leg though.
So that’s a plus.
Instead, my pants slide up in a tight wedgy, crushing my balls anytime I move.
Under my pant legs reveals a lion chilling with a Lamb, a tattoo I had done.
I am that lamb. That Lion smiles as I push through each step. Reminding me of the mountain lion that nearly ate the two of us up higher on that steepe.
I will make it home!
The Ravens are here
The Ravens are here
Now they show their joy. Pure delight in my misery.
I am waiting for the wind to carry me home.
Now they show their joy. Pure delight in my misery.
I am waiting for the wind to carry me home.
They will be first, before the coyotes to discover my blood corpse. They will peck my eyes. I won’t see them pick holes through my torn clothes.
I hear them laughing.
There’s not even enough slope to glide away.
There’s not even enough slope to glide away.
The harness can be a soft cushion to lay on as I slide down this rocky terrain.
My left leg … full of pain… it’s only “sprained” I tell myself again and again!
I begin the descent.
The pain is ever-present.
I feel patches of soft dirt between stones. The crust of the earth stretched from the ancient lake bed. I find seashells and lichen. Old pieces of sea creatures, all that’s left of their dried up shells and bones.
I imagine how the water moves down this hill in the spring. The melting snow makes a trail of water, leaving small puddles of dirt.
The remnants of deer turds leaving fertilizer and making grassy spots; are kisses from my savior. My life persists between these brief pieces of softness. I am following the flow at a glacial speed.
I look ahead and I can trace where the water flows. I begin to move faster until I feel the helmet sliding against the rock. My left heel slips.
3 feet I drop. A slight mistake. Landing on both feet. I cry out with the worst pain ever imaginable.
I collapse, gasping for stillness. Leia bolts to my side. I assure her, “tiss a flesh wound” -My favorite line from Monty python!
I reach the second big rocky point. My phone is almost dead. I check for service and switch to airplane mode. Why didn’t I do that last night?
I record another selfie video to tell people my story when they find my body. There’s not much hope as I’m still so high up.
I can see hikers down there. I whistle. I shout for help.
I throw my glider into the air to get their attention but they don’t see me.
Instead my glider is rolling, rolling, rolling, bounding down the hill. It slows to the edge, pauses for a moment then down it rolls some more.
My glider is gone.
My one piece of softness.
The tears won’t even come anymore.
I reach in my pocket and discover my bandana and wrap it around my cut hand.
My buff disappeared somewhere up in the sand.
Down the hill, I can see a stick. Maybe I can splint my leg with that.
I should record this, but where’s my phone?
In panic, I stare 50’ back up the hill.
“Oh flock! It’s up on that damn rock!”
It takes more effort going up.
Going down gravity was with me.
Uphill is harder. The agony.
Heel, ass, palms. Heel, ass, palms
The struggle is definitely real!
I lift my legs with my hands. As long as I keep moving the pain is not so bad.
But when I stop my legs are on fire.
I start counting. 3 pushes per yard. 50 yards. 100 yards. I can’t keep count.
My brain is a wreck.
There’s Leia! There’s my phone.
I point to my phone. “Leia, Fetch the phone.”
She noses towards it. Sniffs.
She walks away. I smile. And chuckle. At least I can still laugh at her being a dog.
This is the ultimate rock climbing puzzle.
My one uninjured arm is weak and losing strength.
It’s after 1400 when I recover the glider. I can see my truck still a so far away.
I am sucking on pebbles. A trick my dad taught me to keep my saliva flowing.
The glider stopped its descent as the hillside turned to rolling nasty jagged flats.
Now I have my final push across the wasteland.
My pace is slower now. My phone is dead.
1545 – is the time on my wrist.
1620 – It’s not much further now. Leia must be exhausted. She is finding every piece of shade and soft place to lie down as she waits for me. She digs a bed right next to where I’m resting. Throwing dirt all over me.
That’s not nice I spout back, but she’s so tired she just plops down.
I have to rest frequently. I lay down on the glider in its stuff sack.
I rest my eyes and start to drift off.
I’m watching her breathe ever so slight until it seems she also has stopped breathing!
I panic. I gotta keep going.
I see the tattoo again on my broken leg. The illustration of the lion, smiling. “I got you son!” Keep fighting, you’re not just the lamb. But a lion heart you’ll become.
Hard though this struggle may be.
It encourages me.
1734 – It’s an hour before sundown. There’s so little hope.
The pain is increasing as my energy fades.
My sense of smell is returning as it’s been hours since my last cigarette.
I need sustenance.
I try testing the plants. This one is really pungent.
Like wild garlic.
And here is some Yarrow. It has a spicy smell. It’s related to the poppy.
I hold it in my cheek; a natural painkiller.
1829hrs – 24 hours into the Ordeal.
All the water, the safety gear. Hell there’s a full survival kit over there in the truck.
It must be ½ mile away still.
Scraping along. It’s not flat anymore. There’s a wash. I have to cross. Two washes . Three. I have to go down and back up.
Leia is already ahead at the truck. She’s offering no encouragement now. I hear her voice in my head complaining, “why are you taking so long” “Dad, it’s right here, I can smell the water from down here.” If only you’d stand up. You could be at the truck already. What a dumb stroke of luck!
1930hrs – My ass is torn and bruised. I can’t remember things. I black out and wake up and stuff disappears. My handkerchief is gone. The buff is long gone. I’m still bleeding. Dust and dirt is everywhere. The wedgy is so bad I can’t think straight. Or is that the pain in my legs. At least my left is only “strained”!
2020 hrs – I feel dizzy and defeated.
I can feel a presence near me. Grandpa? Justin? Casey?
I am on the deathbed and those that have passed are moving closer to me.
I have that metallic taste. I feel their arms upon me.
The ancestors are close. They’re with me. It’s peaceful.
No. I can’t go now.
The birds, the dog, my family needs me.
My Son most of all! He still needs me. Damn it!
“Turn over I hear them say!” “We’ll help you the rest of the way!” I flip over, fumbling to remove the helmet from my ankle. A lifetime passes before the helmet is on my head.
I hear guidance from beyond, “Now get on your knucks and shattered knees.”
My knee, split all the way in half. I’m not close to heaven. It’s absolute hell.
I finally roll over, buckle the helmet, attempt an army crawl and scream out as I hear a crunch in the roll.
Ok, gotta pull the feet up in the air, knees and knucks .
Fist, fist, knee, knee
Every movement is excruciating.
Suddenly, I feel weightless. They’re carrying the weight. They are Carrying me
My arms are dead
They are carrying me, dragging me through the dusty camp of broken beer bottles and shotgun shells.
It feels like there’s no weight on my legs.
All day my first goal has been to get to my truck and get water.
2130, I open the cab door to my rusty Silverado. It’s a retired King county Search and Rescue rig. The door is not low to the ground. It took all the strength I had. Now I have to stand up on that broken ankle I have? Fuk it. Just get it over with. I grab the canteen from the passenger seat. I unscrew the cap. It’s empty. Two drops dribble out. Leia laps up her reward for putting up such a chivalrous fight. But I have to say.
I carefully, lower myself back to the ground and work my way to the rear of the truck.
There’s a 5 gallon jug back right up front. Using the cargo net and my one good knee I hoist myself onto the tail gate and claim my hard fought prize! I greet Penny my GyrFalcon who’d been waiting inside. Pouring my heart into that jug.
How stupid was I to leave you behind?
I am nothing but dry, dusty bones as I take my first drink of that soothing spring water, too quickly though. I choke it back up violently. Coughing up the desert dust and sand. 27 hours I’d waited and crawled through that land. Sip. Sip. All I can do is sip slowly on this water that I have lusted after, dreamed after, chanted after. It was finally in hand.
I rinsed the blood and dust from my bones.
Starring up at the stary sky. The moon lit up the land as white as Penny’s breast n wings as she sat on her throne.
Thank you Great Spirit. Thank you Grandfather, Justin and Friends!
I say a prayer for deliverance. Grateful to have made it this far! I start the engine.
I can’t use my right leg. So I grab my falcon staff, used for training these birds.
I carefully hook the cord on the gas pedal, and rev the throttle.
This just might work.
Tucking my broken right leg under the steering wheel, I put the Chev in drive.
Gassing it with the staff.
At 20 mph, I set the cruise control, wincing with pain over every pothole.
My second goal of the day was within my sights, all I had to do was keep it steady.
Only a couple more hours bro.
You got this!
2230, I put it in park in the Arby’s drive through and make a call to the ER.
“Do you have anyone on staff tonight that can repair a compound ankle fracture?”
“Who is this?” they reply.
“A prospective customer.” I’m incredulous.
2333 3/6/2020 I rolled into the ER drop zone, and flashed my lights to get the staffs attention. A few moments and extra flashes later a guy comes out and asks how can he help me. I explain I’ve been in an accident and need help! Can you park it he asked? “Yessir” is all I replied. As I parked my truck, he wheeled me inside. We’d made it closest to home so the birds weren’t left in the desert alone!
Now a funny thing as they were taking my info… they asked a question that hadn’t crossed my mind until then. The lady at the desk asked, “So on a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?” I didn’t know how to answer her, 9-10…20!! It all washed over me all at once, and as I stalled with my response the gent who wheeled me in, said. “It’s ok to say 10!” Immediately I blurted out, “10!!!” And we all kinda chuckled. As they laid me on a gurney and untied my boots I said a little prayer of gratitude, thankful to a wonderful father above, morphine and people who wanted to help!
33 hours later I finally closed my eyes in relief!
The true Paragliding Crash Survival Story
by Jeremy Pottenger
Ghost Written by Isaac Amaru
~ Paraglider crawls down Mountain with two broken legs! ~ Utah 2020 ~