Human hailstones

Ewa Wisnierska, paragliderParagliding 2005 World Cup winner Ewa Wisnierska, 35, was lifted to 32,612 feet – higher than Mount Everest – sucked by updrafts in a thunderstorm in eastern Australia.

She attempted to skirt the thunderstorm and when that failed, repeatedly attempted to spiral against its powerful lift.

Battling hailstones the size of oranges, she decided her chances of survival were “almost zero.” She radioed her team leader at 13,123 feet.

“I said, ‘I can’t do anything,'” she told reporters at a news conference. “‘It’s raining and hailing and I’m still climbing – I’m lost.'”

“You can’t imagine the power – you feel like nothing, like a leaf from a tree going up. I was shaking all the time. The last thing I remember it was dark. I could hear lightning all around me. I knew I was in the middle of a thunderstorm and I could not do anything.”

Ground teams used global positioning and radio equipment to track her altitude as she soared from 2,500 feet to more than 6 miles in about 15 minutes.

She lost consciousness for more than 45 minutes while her glider flew on uncontrolled, sinking and lifting several times.

She regained consciousness at about 4 miles high and landed safely, but had ice in her lightweight flying suit and frost bite on her face. She landed 40 miles off her launch site.

She recalled feeling like an astronaut returning from the moon as her landing approached. “I could see the Earth coming – wow, like Apollo 13 – I can see the Earth,” she said.

Another paraglider, He Zhongpin, 42, has died during the same weather system, apparently from a lack of oxygen and extreme cold. His body was found 47 miles from his launch site. [The Times]