A paraglider pilot dangling by a thread on a tree branch.
Emergency service teams racing to secure him with a web of ropes.
At any moment a gust of wind or a cracked branch could have sent the man crashing more than 10 metres to the ground.
This tense rescue scene, worthy of a Marvel movie, played out high above the Illawarra escarpment – and it was Special Operations Team Paramedic Oliver (Oli) Aleman who was playing Spiderman.
Roped to a tree branch across from where the paraglider was hanging, Oli threw the vital safety line that secured the pilot against a vertical drop.
“In a scenario like this you have to make the patient safe first,” said Oli, recounting his part in the rescue.
“If the pilot had fallen straight down from where he was, it could have been catastrophic.
“I managed to get him my blue safety line, which he successfully tied to his paraglider harness.”
The setting for this cliffhanger was Stanwell Tops, a popular hang gliding and paragliding location one hour south of Sydney.
At around 12:30pm on 13 December, a paraglider crashed into gum trees, several hundred metres behind the take-off and landing point at Bald Hill Lookout.
After dropping through the canopy, the paraglider’s sail snagged on a tree branch, breaking the pilot’s fall, but leaving him suspended in mid-air.
Oli describes the multi-agency rescue that played out over the following two-and-a-half hours as, “the most technically challenging roping job” in his years as a SOT.
“We were worried about the integrity of the tree he was caught on, to the point that we couldn’t use a helicopter to secure him on a winch. So we had to work out a way to get to him in mid-air in steeply sloping terrain.
“The patient was also starting to lose feeling in his legs, so I was worried about hang harness syndrome – a dangerous condition that occurs when blood pools in the lower body.
“The first thing we did was clear the hazards directly underneath the patient, in case he did fall.
“Then I scaled a nearby tree on Fire and Rescue NSW’s ladder, using ladder hooks and safety ropes.
“Once I got to the top of the ladder I climbed up to a higher branch, into a position I could throw my safety line.
“Once that line was secured, Police Rescue used a projectile gun to fire two more safety lines over the paraglider’s chute, which they anchored to the ground.
“Everyone then held their breath as the pilot cut away the lines off his chute and transferred his weight to our rescue ropes, and we slowly lowered him down.”
Back on the ground, Oli’s partner Marty Schliebs checked over the patient who was remarkably unscathed considering his ordeal.
The pilot even had the energy to chat to TV news crews who arrived to cover the unfolding drama. Oli Aleman said his SOT training really came to the fore in this rescue.
“Rigorous rope training is part of our regular training,” explained Oli.
“Importantly, our training also encourages us to think outside the square, which we needed to do to help this guy.
“It was great working together with the other emergency service rescue crews, and with our NSW Ambulance team on scene - Inspector Terry Morrow and Paramedics Rod Henstock and Kim Scobie.”
The rescue received widespread coverage including on WIN TV in Wollongong and Seven News in Sydney.
Thank you to Seven News and WIN News for providing images of this amazing rescue.