POLITICS

Glider pilot charged with obstruction of justice in B.C. woman's death

04/30/2012 07:21 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT
CHILLIWACK, B.C. - An experienced hang glider who was piloting a flight when a young woman fell to her death over British Columbia's Fraser Valley is accused of withholding "key evidence" from investigators.

William (Jon) Orders, 50, has been arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, RCMP said Monday, just two days after Lenami Godinez dropped from the glider.

Godinez, 27, and her boyfriend bought the hang-gliding experience to celebrate their anniversary and RCMP said her boyfriend was waiting for his turn when he saw the woman fall, seconds after she and Orders took flight.

RCMP Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth said Orders will remain in custody until at least May 2 when he appears in court.

"The charge is related to an allegation that he withheld some key evidence that could help us with our investigation."

Hollingsworth wouldn't say what it was that Orders allegedly wouldn't tell police, but said he is being "somewhat" co-operative in the police investigation.

She said police have also seized video shot by the boyfriend of his girlfriend's maiden flight, with the hope of piecing together what might have gone wrong.

"We're still in the preliminary stages of this. We're trying to gather evidence, we're speaking to witnesses, we're doing all the particular steps that normal investigations start and end with."

Margit Nance, the executive director of HGPA or the Hang Gliders and Paragliding Association of Canada, the body that self-regulates the industry, said Orders is well-regarded in the industry.

"He's a very experienced pilot," Nance said. "He's completely certified and has gone through all of the hoops that all of our pilots have to go through."

Orders' website said he's been a certified tandem instructor since May 2009 and has been flying and competing for 16 years in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. He placed second in the 2006 Canadian National championships.

Bruce Busby, who lives in Calgary, has known Orders for more than a decade and competed against him at the Canadian National Paragliding championships.

Over all that time he's never heard of Orders having any incidents.

"Nice guy, quite gentle, just a good pilot. So I'm really surprised by all of this stuff. To hear that he was charged, that is certainly not something we condone," he said.

Orders would have been taking people out on more than 100 flights each year, and the tragic glide should have followed the exact same routine, Busby added.

He said it would be difficult to speculate about what Orders might not have told police.

"Because it's just so basic," he said.

"It would have been Jon's responsibility to pre-flight the glider, which means assemble the glider and check that it's properly assembled.

"To put her in the harness, and show her how to properly put the harness on, to clip the harness to the glider, clip his to the glider and brief her on the procedures under which if something goes wrong."

Jason Warner, the safety director for the gliding association, spoke with the pilot just minutes after Godinez fell on Saturday.

"He tried to grab her, he tried to grab her harness, everything he could, wrapped his legs around her and she slipped down his legs and then fell," he said in an earlier interview.

Nance said the entire gliding community is devastated by the death, something she said has never happened before in Canada.

"We have thousands and thousands of flights every year, " she said. "We've got about 930 pilots and then there's ten thousand more in the U.S. We all have the same standards."

But she said sometimes people forget that hang gliding is aviation.

"And we are so, so, so safety conscious."

The hang glider that Godinez fell from is sitting in the Agassiz RCMP detachment.

Hollingsworth said police will be getting an education on the sport as the investigation continues.

"We've seized evidence, as far as gathering evidence and finding more out about it, its going to take some time."

— Witten by Terri Theodore in Vancouver