A glider hangs in a tree in Ed Levin County Park in Milpitas. Local firefighters called on the California Highway Patrol to rescue the pilot from trees that couldn't be reached by aerial ladders (Photo: California Highway Patrol)
A glider hangs in a tree in Ed Levin County Park in Milpitas. Local firefighters called on the California Highway Patrol to rescue the pilot from trees that couldn’t be reached by aerial ladders (Photo: California Highway Patrol)

We never hear about hang-glider flights that begin and end without incident. Instead, we hear about flights like this: Tuesday morning, a 63-year-old hang-glider pilot crashed into a grove of eucalyptus trees in Ed Levin County Park in Milpitas and was left hanging about 50 feet off the ground.

Milpitas firefighters responded, but couldn’t reach the pilot with a truck-mounted ladder. So, just before noon, they called in California Highway Patrol helicopter 30 (H-30) from Napa try to reach the pilot. A CHP press release describes what happened next:

H-30, piloted by CHP Officer/Pilot Mike McAuley, hovered 150 feet above the trees, as CHP Officer/Paramedic Mark Mitchell lowered CHP Officer/Pilot James Andrews to the hang glider pilot.

While suspended by the helicopter hoist cable, in the trees and under the hang glider, Officer Andrews was able to connect a safety line to the glider pilot’s harness. Officer Andrews then turned his attention to cutting away the hang glider to release the glider pilot. After cutting the hang glider pilot free of the kite, Officers McAuley and Mitchell were able to lower Officer Andrews along with the hang glider pilot safely and softly to the ground nearby.

…In over a decade at CHP Air Operations, each crew member said that this was one of, if not the most, difficult rescues they had ever performed.

CHP Sgt. Duncan Jensen told the San Jose Mercury News that the crew’s main concern was to avoid accidentally dislodging the pilot and glider from the trees:

“That’s a delicate mission. If the helicopter blew too hard on the glider, it would have blown it right out of the tree and killed him.”

Jensen said that hoist-style rescue missions are usually conducted 50 feet above the target, but in this case they tripled that distance to cut down on prop wash. …

“The pilot was in a position where the hang glider was broken but he was still attached to it, hanging underneath it,” Jensen said. “There was no way he could have climbed out of there, and could have fallen at any time.”

Firefighters and paramedics checked on the glider pilot and found he’d come through the incident uninjured. His unpowered aircraft was trashed, however, and left in the tree for now.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

Twitter: twitter.com/danbrekke
Facebook: www.facebook.com/danbrekke
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/danbrekke

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor