There might be worse places to crash a paraglider, but it’s hard to imagine.
A 37-year-old Santa Cruz man on Monday evening went down two miles west of the White Mountain Research Station’s Barcroft Laboratory near Barcroft Peak, breaking his back and lying in the darkness – helpless in steep, rocky, unforgiving terrain.
“Fortunately he didn’t land in a rock ditch or in a cliff band or truly challenging terrain,” said Jeff Holmquist, a member of the rescue team.
“We caught a huge break because of that, and obviously, so did he.”
Barcroft Peak is five miles south of White Mountain Peak and is at an elevation of 13,040 feet.
Frederic Bourgault, an experienced pilot, internationally known paraglider and a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Santa Cruz’s Joby Energy, survived the crash, and was airlifted out early Tuesday morning, but only after an elaborate, all-night operation by the Mono County Search and Rescue team.
In addition, night-vision aircraft from the Fallon (Nev.) Naval Air Station assisted in the dramatic rescue, as well as a private citizen flying a small plane.
The search-and-rescue team was notified of the accident at about 7 o’clock, and didn’t really get oriented until after nightfall.
Before full darkness descended the private pilot spotted Bourgault lying among the loose, chunky rocks. According to a SAR member, the pilot reported the man could not move, save for his arms.
The pilot tried to get exact coordinates, but given the speed of the plane and the difficulty of the terrain, SAR members could not get an exact fix on Bourgault’s location.
Meanwhile, a Careflight helicopter was dispatched to the area, but its crew reported it could not land due to “darkness, altitude and steep terrain.”
The SAR team then requested the night-vision helicopter to help locate the victim. Still, the SAR team had to get there, and it took them most of the night, hiking and sliding down a steep downslope that was covered in scree-like, loose rock.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the rescuers reached Bourgault and, along with the helicopter medics, loaded him onto the chopper, which transported to Bishop Airport, where he was transferred to an ambulance, which in turn transferred him to Northern Inyo Hospital.
Because of the extent of his injuries Bourgault was transported to Stanford Medical Center.
“We’re all terribly worried about him,” said Sher Quaday of Joby Energy’s business development team.