Rescue crews rushed to a man who fell hundreds of feet onto a Semiahmoo Bay sandbar just before noon Wednesday.
Witnesses say the man – who was operating a paramotor, or powered paraglider – spiralled to the ground after the engine suddenly stopped.
“He was probably… 500-600 feet up in the air,” said Mark Hinkson, a White Rock resident who was out walking his dogs with his fiancée Colleen O’Connell when the incident unfolded.
Hinkson said he and O’Connell had seen the man apparently practising take-offs and landings along the East Beach shoreline for about 15 minutes before he ran into trouble at the higher elevation.
“All of a sudden I heard the power (turn) off. He was spiralling straight down. He hit the ground hard,” Hinkson said.
Police and firefighters from Surrey and White Rock, as well as paramedics, raced to the scene; an air ambulance was also dispatched, landing once near the water line, then having to move to a position slightly closer inland.
The injured man, who landed about 500 metres from the beachfront, was bleeding profusely. He reportedly told passersby he was 29 years old and had recently moved to the area.
“He was in a lot of pain. He said it was difficult for him to breathe,” O’Connell said.
White Rock deputy fire Chief Ed Wolfe confirmed the man was conscious the entire time emergency crews were on-scene.
“He was quite badly hurt,” Wolfe told Peace Arch News.
Brothers Thomas and Ryan Andrus, aged 26 and 23 years respectively, said they were near the bear statue on East Beach when the paramotorist dropped from the sky.
The siblings said they were wondering aloud about the safety precautions of such crafts “within five seconds” of it dropping.
Ryan Andrus said that after they got to the scene, he ran back to the Semiahmoo Park parking lot where emergency officials were gathering, to help direct the crews to where the man had hit the ground.
A number of witnesses were critical of the emergency response crews, with some describing it as slow.
Wolfe confirmed his crew was slightly delayed by a report that initially suggested the incident was closer to the pier.
“The call originally came in to just east of the pier, so we went down to that location, expecting it to be near the white rock,” he said.
When it was determined the victim crashed closer to the trestle on Semiahmoo First Nation land, that information was radioed in and Surrey firefighters were advised.
Police and ambulance crews were “making their way out” to the victim when White Rock firefighters arrived at the Semiahmoo Park parking lot, Wolfe said.
The injured man was airlifted from the scene around 12:45 p.m.