Two days after Tom de Dorlodot's bone-breaking crash landing in Bellinzona, Switzerland, he and Paul Guschlbauer have come to a decision that was easy to make but difficult to accept: the Adriatic Circle project is officially on hold following Tom's injury, and Paul will not continue on. Sad news to be sure, but in the end, there was no question. As Paul put it, "We've started this trip together, stayed together, and will finish together."
Paul has since returned to his home near Salzburg, so we caught up with him to ask a few questions – and gave Tom a quick ring on Skype in the hospital.
First things first – tell us what happened to Tom.
Paul: We had a great flight – about 70km – but the wind was strong and turbulent in the landing zone. Nothing we haven't dealt with many times. I didn't see it happen – I realised while landing that he was stuck in a tree. But when I landed, I figured I might have to just help him down. I didn't think he was hurt.
Tom, where did it happen? What do you remember?
Tom: In Bellinzona, Switzerland. I remember pretty much everything – we arrived very high after a beautiful flight. 3,000m above we realised the wind was strong, normal for that spot. I was ready to land at about 25m from the ground when the whole glider collapsed because of turbulence. A little higher, and I could have thrown a reserve, and a little lower, less chance of injury. The wind took me into the trees full speed though, back first.
Unfortunately, Paul, you couldn t just help him down...
Paul: As I got to the tree, he told me to call the ambulance, so I knew it was serious. He was fully conscious, but not out of danger – the glider could have rippped or a gust could have knocked him out of the tree. I told him to hang on to a branch if he could. It was such an unfortunate accident – had his body passed 1.5m to the left, he just would have swung in the tree and probably not gotten hurt at all.
Tom, what were you thinking as you hung in the tree?
Tom: I protected my head with my arms. I broke some big branches, but my back hit the main trunk, and that's when I got hurt. I never lost consciousness. I really have to thank the firemen and medics who got me out of the tree and to the hospital in Lugano. They did an amazing job!
What happened next?
Paul: I followed by train, and saw him a few hours after the accident. He was awake, and already very optimistic!
Optimism has defined this whole trip!
Paul: There's no other way to look at it. When we started, the goal seemed just so far away… We knew after the first few days it was a big trip, and at the pace we were going, it would take a long time.
Paul, After Tom's crash, you didn't cancel right away…
Paul: What helped us get that far to begin with – we traveled almost 1,400 km, most of it on foot – was that we did it together. If one landed, the other landed. We were a team. Both of us decided we will finish the trip, and we will finish it together.
… and that would be when, Tom?
The next challenge is a full recovery. But hopefully this spring, we can finish the Adriatic Circle. It will be the perfect training for the 2015 X-Alps.
Speaking of training, Paul, you haven't stopped...
Paul: 10k run this morning! I could really feel the training from this trip on my run.
And Tom, no runs for you – what's the latest news on your condition?
Tom: I have broken a few ribs, some damage to the L5 vertebrae in my back, and also injured my the sacrum, (part of the pelvis). But, good news! The doctors have just told me that I will not need a surgery. I'll be on bed rest for a while, and then will follow with three to four months of serious rehab before I can train again.
So the circle is not broken, just not yet finished…
Tom: It's something I want to finish – it's something we have to finish. And the right way to do it is from where we had to stop.
Paul: I have a really strong feeling about it. It's simply something that I have to do.