Ryan Grimaldi, 28, launched the second paraglide ride of his life yesterday afternoon in Sequatchie County from the Tennessee Tree Toppers ramp. But his flight only lasted a few seconds.
Grimaldi's non-motorized paraglider got caught in a tree only a few feet down the extremely steep bluff. He said his wing "came over the top and collapsed."
The bluff off of Window Rock Road has claimed lives in the past, but as Grimaldi said, "I was lucky."
His luck proved life-saving, along with about 35 rescuers from several agencies. Grimaldi's feet actually landed on a branch and enabled him to stand in the tree about 70 feet above ground. But he was stuck in this tree on a night with temperatures hovering in the low 20's. And the wind was gusting.
He was also extremely grateful to the rescuers who came to his aid, especially Rodney Smith of the Dunlap Volunteer Fire Department.
Smith has worked as a lineman and he put his experience to work. But first, crews had to get to the base of the tree. Dunlap Volunteer Fire Assistant Chief Wayne Snyder was part of the almost six-hour rescue.
"First, we had to get down to where he was and under the bluff. And we did that by going through a crevice in the rocks," said Snyder. "Rescuers went through a crevice in the rock."
Then, it was time for Smith to use his skills. With spikes on his boots and experience in his pocket, Smith went straight up the tree. Snyder described Smith's role.
"He got to him and of course with safety lines and stuff he managed to climb the tree about like you were climbing a light pole," said Snyder.
The crews rigged a pulley and used the harness Grimaldi was already in to bring him down to safety without any injury. Grimaldi said he couldn't express enough how grateful he was to all of the rescuers.
This afternoon, he and his flight instructor planned to hike down the bluff and see if they could salvage the paraglider. They planned to cut down the tree it was stuck in.
Grimaldi started paragliding only a few months ago, spending about $3,000 on his paraglider. And after this harrowing experience, he said he will fly again.by John Madewell