Paraglider pilot plummets to death near Squak Mountain

August 9, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

A paraglider pilot plunged to his death Aug. 7 as he attempted to land in a pasture near Issaquah.

Renton resident Kenneth Blanchard, 53, completed hundreds of paraglider flights before the deadly accident.

Seattle Paragliding owner Marc Chirico said Blanchard launched from Poo Poo Point on Tiger Mountain a couple of hours earlier and planned to land near his home on a “postage stamp of a landing field” in a pasture.

Chirico said Blanchard completed about 300 flights before the accident.

The accident occurred at about 7 p.m. in the 12300 block of 202nd Place Southeast, near the intended landing site. Blanchard plummeted to the ground in the High Valley area southwest of Squak Mountain State Park, about three miles from the usual paraglider landing site along Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast.

Witnesses said the paraglider appeared to be gliding on a thermal current as the pilot approached the High Valley site from a northeasterly direction.

Suddenly, as witnesses watched, a paraglider wing started twisting and spinning out of control. Then, the rig collapsed about 40 to 50 feet above the ground and plunged into a pasture.

Bystanders and Eastside Fire & Rescue medics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Blanchard died at the scene.

King County Medical Examiner’s Office investigators later said Blanchard died from traumatic injuries to the head and torso.

Chirico estimated 80,000 to 100,000 flights have launched from Poo Poo Point during the past 20 years, and accidents occur infrequently.

EFR crews responded to 10 paraglider-related incidents, including the most recent crash, since 2009. Rescuers untangled a paraglider pilot from trees on Tiger Mountain in early June. Most incidents, including the June incident, resulted in minor injuries for the pilots.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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