in 2011 Felix Wölk was on a photographic mission high above the Alps in Italy, shooting action photos for that year’s Red Bull X-Alps from a tandem paraglider. For six hours, he’d been filling the camera card with some of what he knew would be his best stuff of the event, which, until that point, had mostly happened on the ground instead of in the air. They were photos he knew would be published everywhere. Unless, of course, he fumbled with his fingers while removing the memory card from the camera and putting it in his pocket, sending it tumbling through the air to the grassy meadow 500m below him.
This image was almost lost feverer!
It was a rainy, stormy day, with dramatic lighting and real-deal aerial action, and Felix and his tandem pilot, Axel Gudelius, had been working hard to get the shot – the target was the famous north faces of the Tre Cime. "It was an exciting day. The thermal activity was on the south side, so we got some altitude on the sunny slopes, then used that to glide over the montain to the steep routes,” says Wölk. “It rained a lot actually. Cloudbase was good, but there was a lot of humidity and potential for thunderstorms." Wet wings limited their flying ability, but Wölk managed to get above the pilot and score some shots.
Lots of ground for a card to land
They got the images they were looking for just before it started hailing, sending both of the pilots hunting for cover. With space for only a few shots left on the card, Felix snapped some selfies of him and Axel before going to swap the memory card for a new one, just in case there were a few more images to get.
He's smiling because he still has the card
I remember exactly what he said – 'I see it. I see it. I see it. I see it… I don’t see it.'”
His fingers, stiff and cold from holding the camera at high altitude, lost grip on the small memory card as he took it out of the camera. “I watched it fall for a few seconds,” says Felix. “But Axel managed to keep an eye on it for quite a long time! I remember exactly what he said – 'I see it. I see it. I see it. I see it… I don’t see it.'”
They were about 500m above the ground when it happened, and fortunately the card appeared to fall in a grassy meadow instead of some trees. The pair quickly circled down to the meadow, packed up the gilder, and started hunting.
What we were happiest about was the cows – they had eaten the grass, so it was quite short and you could actually look for the card.
“I KNEW I had good shots on the card,” says Wölk. “We had to at least try to search! I started thinking about the angle of the slope, the wind, and surmised the card would have been towards the bottom of the field. What we were happiest about was the cows – they had eaten the grass, so it was quite short and you could actually look for the card.”
His pilot, Axel, recalls the same. "We were so lucky that it had fallen in the direction of this field instead of the woods around it – we never would have found it otherwise."
The stormy skies ended the shoot
After half an hour, it was Axel who held up the card, which he’d picked up from some short grass at the bottom of the meadow, and as you've realised, they're the images shown here. “He said to me, 'this is going to cost you a lot of money,’” says Felix, "and I probably would have paid it!”