GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A downed paraglider was successfully rescued by helicopter from the side of Red Mountain Wednesday afternoon, after he spent several hours stranded on a steep rocky slope more than a thousand feet up the mountainside.
The pilot was identified by fellow paragliders as John Goss, a well-known cast member and manager of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, who is also an avid paraglider with more than 130 solo flights under his belt.
Goss was reportedly conscious and alert during the rescue operation, and his injuries were not severe, according to Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson and others who were in cell phone contact with him during the incident.
In a Friday update, Valley View Hospital spokeswomen Stacey Gavrell said that Goss remained in the hospital in stable condition.
The accident happened at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, and was witnessed by a handful of other paragliders who were flying from the top of Red Mountain around the same time.
“The conditions got a little bumpy, and he came too close to the hillside,” said Pine Pienaar, owner of Adventure Paragliding, which was running tandem flights off Red Mountain Wednesday morning.
Goss and two other solo pilots rode up to the popular launch point in the same vehicle, but took off after the tandem flights had already gone off, he said.
“His chute collapsed and it looked like he over-corrected and proceeded to hit the hill,” said Pienaar, who was in cell phone contact with Goss throughout the rescue operation while watching from Coach Miller Lane above the open area where the paragliders land.
Added fellow pilot A.J. Frye, “We were already down on the ground when the three solo pilots took off. He just got too close to the hill and there wasn’t enough room for him to deploy his reserve parachute.”
Pienaar, who has been running Adventure Paragliding training pilots and giving tandem rides for 10 years, said it was the first paragliding crash he could remember on Red Mountain.
“There have probably been 10,000 safe flights here,” added Frye.
Rescue crews from the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, Colorado River Fire and Rescue and Garfield County Search and Rescue spent about four hours ascending the east side of the mountain where Goss could be seen, sometimes struggling to keep from sliding down the steep, 60-degree, rock-strewn gully, located just above the 1700 block of Midland Avenue.
By mid-afternoon, rescuers finally got to a point where they were able to rappel down to Goss and secure him into a stretcher for the airlift out.
Numerous onlookers watched from Glenwood Springs High School and other vantage points in the area as the Black Hawk Colorado Air National Guard helicopter out of Eagle County took off from Stubler Memorial Field and maneuvered over the crash site.
Large dust clouds rose into the air as the rescuers worked to secure the basket to the helicopter cable, and Goss was safely transported to a waiting ambulance back at the football field at about 3 p.m.
Roads around the football field were closed for a period of time during the operation, according to a press release from Garfield County Search and Rescue.
“The lift required the helicopter to extend approximately 150 feet of cable to reach the man on the slope,” according to the release.
Another solo paraglider pilot, Ben Holzman, was among those watching from the ground as spotters helped guide rescue crews to the downed pilot by radio Wednesday morning.
“I’ve been flying here for about five years, and I always keep it pretty conservative,” he said. “I would consider John to be a very good pilot, he just got caught in a bad spot and lost his lift.
“As dangerous as people perceive this sport to be, we do take precautions and it’s generally pretty safe, depending on where you are and what the conditions are like,” Holzman said, adding that conditions were ideal on Wednesday before the accident.