The islands of the South Pacific may be pretty on the eyes – especially from the air – but they aren't an easy place to fly. Strong winds combined with a lack of launch and landing zones will challenge even the best pilots, such as Horacio Llorens. The world record-holding acro pilot survived a close call – landing in the ocean and treading water until a rescue boat arrived (and it wasn't soon).
With flyable days for The Search Project coming rarely thanks to strong winds and weather, Llorens and partner Thomas de Dorlodot were trying to get their wings up whenever they could – often sleeping at a launch overnight so they could take off at first light when winds were lightest.
What started as routine day in the air went awry when a storm cloud got blown toward the island. The plan was to get the altitude they needed to cross the island – but when a cloud is very big, sometimes humidity knocks out the GPS signal. That's what happened to Llorens.
“My biggest fear at the beginning was not to hit the mountain that was hidden inside the cloud,” says Llorens. “I was totally lost. I climbed so that I guaranteed I'd get high enough to get over the mountain. I got so high it was snowing! My canopy was collapsing, everything was going to hell.”
Everything was going to hell.
With a strong wind buffeting the windward side of the island, he was forced to the lee side – and there was no going back. “It was scary – I really had no idea where I was,” says Llorens.
When Llorens finally descended from the cloud, he saw he was a signficant distance from the island. He used the altitude he had to get a little bit closer, cutting the distance from 8km to 5km.
“I almost left the gear behind, thinking I could make it the 5km to the island – but after 15 minutes, Thomas got to a point where he could get radio reception.”
His paragliding harness offered some flotation, and the paraglider itself stayed on top of the water. “It was actually a bonus,” says Llorens. “The paraglider looks big, and when the sharks see something big, they get scared!”
In total, Llorens spent over two hours in the water waiting for rescue – and his joy upon reaching the boat is clearly apparent.
The boys have now arrived back home to Europe, and are already planning their next adventure – this time, it hopefully won't involve an unexpected swim.
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