MILPITAS -- It took some deft maneuvering, but a California Highway Patrol rescue helicopter crew was able to pluck a wayward hang glider from his precarious perch high in a eucalyptus tree and return him to terra firma Tuesday afternoon.
The 63-year-old man had crashed into a group of trees in Ed Levin County Park sometime Tuesday morning, and responding ground-based rescue crews were stymied because the terrain did not allow a ladder to reach the pilot, dangling from his big kite 50 feet in the air.
The Napa-based CHP helicopter unit was summoned to the scene around 11:45 p.m., and when it arrived landed nearby so a plan could be formulated to best rescue the man.
"That's a delicate mission," said CHP Sgt. Duncan Jensen of the Napa unit. "If the helicopter blew too hard on the glider, it would have blown it right out of the tree and killed him."
Jensen said that hoist-style rescue missions are usually conducted 50 feet above the target, but in this case they tripled that distance to cut down on prop wash.
CHP officers pilot Mike McAuley, paramedic Mark Mitchell and rescuer James Andrews were involved in the mission, with Andrews lowered to the dangling man.
"The pilot was in a position where the hang glider was broken but he was still attached to it, hanging underneath it," Jensen said. "There was no way he could have climbed out of there, and could have fallen at any time."
Jensen said Andrews first hooked the pilot to the hoist harness, then used his emergency cable cutter to clip the man free of his airframe. Both were then gently lowered and reached solid ground uninjured, according to the CHP.
"In over a decade at CHP Air Operations, each crew member said that this was one of, if not the most, difficult rescues they had ever performed," reads a CHP news release.
"It was real tricky," Jensen said. "We've got a really strong crew."
Jensen added he could not recall any similar rescues.
"We use the helicopter for water rescues, and in the Sierra to get injured people out of remote areas, canyons that are inaccessible where the helicopter can't even land," he said. "But this was just in a tree, and very unusual."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.