Australian paragliding pro Nick Neynens may never walk again after descending heavily on a rock face while sliding in the French Alps.
The 39-year-old from Brisbane had met three other friends in mid-June, in Annecy, south-east France, where they had planned to fly off into the hills.
Nick said it was a relaxed, friendly atmosphere with blue skies, no wind and no signs of danger.
“I’ve flown in many places and conditions all over the world and this certainly didn’t seem like one of the most dangerous,” he told news.com.au.
However, just a day into their journey, the veteran adventure pilot suffered a glider collapse and slammed hard into a rock face as his reserve canopy failed to deploy sufficiently.
The horror mid-air crash left Nick seriously injured. He now suffers from spinal injuries and no longer moves from the waist down.
“I remember a few minutes before the accident. I don’t remember the actual accident, but I know I hit the ground twice,’ Nick told news.com.au from his intensive care unit bed at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.
“I was on the ground for a while after my first crash, then I was lifted by a gust of wind which I believe re-inflated my parachute causing the second crash – which did the most damage.
“My friend who was the last to take off saw the accident from the air and immediately organized a rescue helicopter.”
Nick remembers climbing high to cross the Col des Aravis, then near the height of the ridge he noticed the westerly wind and decided to go over to that side.
“Shortly after I was in a bowl, upwind, with my final footage within 400m of the crash site taking several turns in a mild thermal.”
He said he made a few turns, looking for lift, and then, “I fell out of the sky.”
His friend saw him fly off and launch the reserve, which did not deploy.
Nick was airlifted to hospital in Annecy, France, where doctors operated on his back to stabilize an L1 spinal fracture, along with his other injuries, including a subdural hematoma (blow to the head ), a tear in the aortic intima and minor pulmonary contusions (blow to the lung).
The 39-year-old had been hospitalized in France until friends rallied behind him to help raise more than $67,000 so he could return to Australia a few weeks ago.
It took a long time to convince Nick to accept financial assistance from GoFundMe, but he is happy to be back in Australia now.
The contributions not only went towards emergency care and repatriation flights, but will also be used to help Nick cover other medical costs, living expenses while recovering with no income and any specialist equipment he may need. .
Nick, originally from New Zealand, is now planning to return there for treatment at a spine unit.
He said it’s been a long road, but although he’s uncertain about his prospects for recovery, he remains hopeful.
“I think it’s like a new birth – but I don’t know for sure how many functions I’ll get back.
“I’m patient and working on it and I’m not too emotional about it. I had amazing experiences paragliding and it turned out to be an unlucky day.
Nick, who has been a paraglider for 15 years, has competed numerous times in the Red Bull X-Alps – the world’s toughest race – held national records and explored corners of the world most wouldn’t dare dream.
He is often described as a “legend” in the paragliding world.
Nick took to Facebook where he shared a long message thanking those who donated and all the messages of support from around the world he has received. He also asked if he was likely to fly again.
“I always thought it was a risky sport with this sort of thing being part of the deal, but the day’s flight I remember was relaxed and fun,” he said.
“From a few minutes before the incident to a few days after, I have no memory. Will I fly again? I never had a dogmatic attachment to flying, I just found it to be the best value for money to explore and have unique and special experiences in nature. But the situation has changed now and it is too early to tell what the future holds.